Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
The Kolmogorov option (scottaaronson.com)
537 points by apsec112 163 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 464 comments



Let's say this is about the Google memo. And let's say, for the sake of argument, you're a person who thinks Damore had some good points and some bad points but you think the hysterically censorious response to him was way over the line. But you don't want to become a pariah yourself, so you stay quiet about it. The argument Damore was making was fiddly, kind of subtle and takes a long time to explain, it's not worth the trouble you're going to get into. You take the Kolmogorov option and decide to wait out this insane time period.

Only it turns out, when you don't decide to argue for that subtle and qualified defense of Damore, a bunch of alt-right internet trolls make some terrible fallacious defenses of things he didn't say. Suddenly, the original censorious instincts seem much more righteous and justified. After all, "Now there are only full-throated red-pillers arguing in Damore's defense! We were right all along!"

Now there are two sides to this issue, and they're both identity politics and brain-dead shouting. Because no one stopped and offered a third option: actually discussing his argument, acknowledging where he was right, and discussing what he got wrong.


Putting Damore's stuff aside for a while (I haven't even read it yet), reasonably discussing anything and having some sort of "Bohm dialogue" is one of the hardest things in the world. Not only it takes quite a bit of mental effort, but it's also easily disrupted.

The loudest and most obnoxious people in the room can very well misrepresent or ignore whatever you said, take a few bits of it and use it to build their own straw-man to bash. It's as if they weren't satisfied enough to just talk/shout past you, but also feel the need to climb over you and make you their soapbox. And it takes a bit of rhetorical smarts to defuse or avoid this sort of stuff, whereas the people who are in favor of actual discussion tend to be a bit naïve when it comes to rhetoric.

Academics, for instance, are often in danger of being eaten alive by the public if their research is even a little bit controversial. In my opinion, all because of this.


Mostly because our lifestyles rely to much on blurry knowledge and social inertia. People are not ready nor trained to discuss in depth.


The Kolmogorov Option is not to simply stay quiet, it is to not participate in activities where the only outcomes are negative.

So while avoiding the Red Pill brigade, participate in team building and reinforcing relationships with the people you want to keep around you. So you have a safe area (a domain of your life, not a physical constraint) where you relate to people with protected attributes the way they wish to be related to (usually: with respect, openness and with no attention paid to protected attributes)

When dealing with people outside your safe areas, do not mention the protected attributes of those inside your safe areas.

Choose your battles. Don't try sacrificing yourself over a hill that nobody needs.

You can still discuss the nuances with people who are open to frank discussions about contentious issues. Just be prepared to have your own assumptions challenged by the people you think you are protecting.


"Choose your battles" does make sense, and I think the Kolmogorov option is an honorable one. But I'm not sure it should apply here:

First, Kolmogorov lived in a dictatorship. Most people talking here live in a democracy. We have many more options for fighting incorrect but widely-accepted beliefs.

Second, Kolmogorov lived before the internet. Internet anonymity helps minorities speak up and get organized (as we can see across the political spectrum).


> Internet anonymity

With policies similar to Facebook's real name policy and Google's long memory, that veil of anonymity is getting pretty thin.

I'm all but certain that, despite my lack of personally identifying information on my profile here on YC, that my company could trace back anything I wrote here to me as a person. I'm also 100% certain that a state actor could do the same (even if they are less likely to do so).

Is my company regularly Googling my name and my aliases? Beats me. Though if they were concerned about smears against their reputations or leaks of sensitive information, I'm sure they would start.


If this is referring to the google memo though, a company IS a dictatorship.


Fair point, yeah. I took the article here to be talking about society more broadly, but I could be wrong.


I think you are right, as Scott is an academic.

But it is clearly inspired by the google memo, and a larger portion of society sustain themselves by selling labour to micro dictatorships.


>"Choose your battles" does make sense

It's a phrase that implies you should fight less. Which leaves you ill equipped at fighting when it matters to you.


To me it means only pick fights that you have a chance of winning. You don't learn to fight better by getting yourself killed.


I think it rather implies you should fight smarter.

Arguing with people that will only get more entrenched in their oppinion the more the argument goes is couter productive no matter how right you are. So if you need to learn that, by all means, argue with those poeple untill you get it. But afterwards, learn when to save your breath.


No, it assumes you have finite resources and finite bridges to burn, and advises that you do the resource and bridge allocation wisely.


Because no one stopped and offered a third option: actually discussing his argument, acknowledging where he was right, and discussing what he got wrong.

You're assuming Damore's argument exists in a vacuum. But it doesn't. It had a stated purpose of changing HR and hiring policies at Google, and with that, the unavoidable implication that some of Damore's colleagues actually shouldn't be with the company.

When you throw that kind of poison grenade into a work environment and back it up with unsupported biological claims, it's not a surprise that any good points in the argument will be ignored.

I'm reminded of Wiio's law, "All human communication fails except by accident." [1]

If you want to make a subtle point, you must communicate it very clearly -- for some reason many writers like Damore take the opposite approach. And if you want an argument to be debated from first principles, isolate it from real-world consequences like stepping on established workplace legislation. (Damore's firing was unavoidable under current US law.)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiio%27s_laws


> the unavoidable implication that some of Damore's colleagues actually shouldn't be with the company.

Any criticism of existing hiring policy would logically result in the same implication. If it's fair at all to question a hiring policy, this needs to be not taken personally.

Besides, presumably at one point, all the "pro-diversity" initiatives mentioned in the memo didn't exist, yet someone was able to make the case that they should. This, too, would be an implication that some of the existing colleagues shouldn't be there, because there should have been more diverse selections.

Yet nobody was making lists of people they "can't possibly work with" for having that opinion.


... at one point, all the "pro-diversity" initiatives mentioned in the memo didn't exist, yet someone was able to make the case that they should.

Yes -- the management of the company decided this.

I don't really understand why Google engineers would assume that they should have free rein to debate company policies, on company networks and on company time...? A public corporation is not a democracy.

Publicly second-guessing HR practices is completely outside of a software engineer's job at a place like Google. If you want to make your own rules, go start your own company.

It's strange that the right is always in favor of giving corporations more power over employees -- except this time, when someone gets fired for doing their style of politics on company time.


  > I don't really understand why Google engineers would assume
  > that they should have free rein to debate company policies,
  > on company networks and on company time...?
The memo was in response to a request on the 'coffee beans' Google Group for input on diversity/hiring programs.

A few months later he posted it into the 'skeptics' group and that is when the mob formed.

Therefore, he was explicitly doing something that had been asked for. Because of this your argument is totally invalid.


Ok, I didn't know that, thanks for the context.

It's very hard for an outsider to judge what is appropriate for a forum called "skeptics". In principle I would assume that same rules of conduct apply there as elsewhere in the company, but I wouldn't know.


Now obviously, what he did was injudicious. If you are a white male and suspect a diversity program is going to fail (and there's a lot of evidence that many of them do fail, sometimes even with negative impacts on the people they are meant to help) then you would be wise to shut up. The same would be true if a religious owner asked employees what they thought of their religion. It's best to just avoid disagreeing without showing too much interest.


Sure, that makes sense in the short term. But if everyone did this, over a long period of time, two things would happen:

(a) Diversity programs would at some point stop being ineffective.

and

(b) Identity politics would achieve cultural hegemony.

I agree that it would be wise to shut up if doing so had no long term effects (as in your example of a manager asking about religion), but that clearly isn't the case here. And in the case of (b), I would say that long-term effect is extremely undesirable, for both businesses and individuals.


> Diversity programs would at some point stop being ineffective.

I seriously doubt this will happen unless people criticize the failings of diversity programs, and diversity officer take this criticism seriously.


That's a fair point, and I agree that (if so; those of us who don't work at Google don't really know what's going on) the argument that he should have expected not to talk about this at all is invalid. That's useful context, thanks.

However, I don't think this necessarily excuses him entirely. If there's a company-wide discussion group for future directions on tech stacks inviting input, and I write a long post arguing, in complete seriousness, that the best long-term tech stack for the company is to use Classic ASP on Windows NT 4.0, and I pull some stats about successful companies in the dot-com boom that used ASP, I think it is entirely reasonable for the company to re-evaluate whether they badly misjudged my critical thinking skills. I am not excused simply because they invited feedback from the whole company.

Whether this particular post is a comparable situation is certainly debatable, but I think that we cannot simply excuse it by saying that feedback was requested.


If an employee argues for ASP, you might fire him because this implies he's a really bad technical worker. But you wouldn't (have to) fire him because, in arguing for ASP, he hurt the feelings of the PHP proponents in the company and made them feel they have to justify themselves, provoking some to say they would not be willing to work with him in the future even on PHP projects, and that if he wasn't fired they would resign.

With PHP vs ASP, we trust people to behave civilly and allow space for debate. With men vs. women, we don't. One man's modus ponens is another's modus tollens; draw your own conclusions...


Nope, a "civil debate" about PHP vs. ASP is a waste of time. No reasonable employer will give you space for debate between the two. If there were a company-wide week-long debate about PHP vs. ASP at my employer, I would seriously question whether I should be at a company where these sorts of questions are considered debate-worthy, whether I have to justify every decision I make about common-sense things (why am I writing shell scripts in sh instead of tcl? why am I using UTF-8 instead of EBCDIC?), and definitely whether I want to work with all the people on the wrong side of the debate - and maybe some of those on the right side, who are considering the matter debate-worthy - in the future, lest they pick apart every PR I make because of their lack of critical reasoning skills. I would certainly threaten to resign if forced to work with these people.

The fact is, the primary reason someone is a bad technical worker in this era is that they're a poor coworker. Almost no projects of any significant merit are developed by a lone hero in a corner.


There's an important difference between silencing opinions that (you think) are very stupid for practical engineering reasons, and not wanting to work with the fools who hold them; and between silencing opinions because you think they are morally abhorrent and harmful just by being expressed, and punishing people for holding or expressing them.

Morality is a psychologically distinct category. Being morally wrong is not the same, is not treated the same, as being factually wrong. A core part of the problem here is that something we'd want to be discussed factually, like choice of programming language, instead became a moral issue.

If a programmer advocates for ASP in a PHP company, it's reasonable he'd be fired, although I'd hope he'd be given a warning and a second chance first. However, thousands of people across the company would not get involved, the CEO of a megacorp would not cancel his family vacation to make a personal statement, the news media would not give it prominent coverage. Nobody much would care about a not-very-senior employee turning out to have a foolish or wrong factual opinion and being fired for it. But everyone cares about an employee making a moral stand that some (including other employees) may agree with, and being fired for that.

To repeat my earlier point: advocacy of ASP, here standing for any technical or factual matter, might be very wrong factually; but advocating for ASP would not hurt people's emotions and feelings of safety.


I think that argues in favor of a swifter response to someone who is objectively wrong on a moral matter that's relevant to the company's business objectives than someone who's objectively wrong on a merely technical matter that's relevant to the company's business objectives, no? Maybe I'm misunderstanding you.

I mean, we could argue that this isn't a moral matter, but the fact is that a huge number of employees at the company do see it as a moral matter, and it affects everything from morale to recruiting to trust to retention. A warning is a luxury we have when this isn't true, but it's not one that's affordable here. To be clear, I am absolutely on board with giving him a generous severance (and a sinecure or PIP if needed to maintain immigration status or something), because I care very much about the wellbeing of all humans regardless of whether I find them to act morally. I'm not here to punish him for his immoral behavior. But the important thing is that he needs to be removed from day-to-day activities and decisionmaking at least as much as someone who seriously and earnestly advocated ASP would.

(In fact, one of the few scientifically-cited claims in the document is "moralizing things that shouldn't be moralized is bad," but there's no strong argument, scientific or otherwise, for "... and this is one of those things that shouldn't be moralized.")


You're right that:

1. What is and isn't in the domain of morality is a matter of culture and history and current events; if enough people feel something is immoral, that makes it immoral pretty much by definition.

2. Immoral behavior is, and in some sense ought to be, punished more harshly and more swiftly than merely being factually wrong or incompetent.

But of course people never agree on what is moral or immoral, or even what should be moralized or amoral. In particular, I believe in and argue for the free discussion of factual claims in the pursuit of truth, and against the moralization of empirically-testable propositions. (So, I agree that moralizing such things is bad).

I can give lots of reasons for why this produces a better society (as well as better science and technology), but in the end it's only a better society for those who care at all about truth (and, inseparably, about working science and technology). If someone disagrees with this on moral grounds, and feels it's better to force everyone to lie if the truth might be offensive, then I probably won't convince them otherwise.


I don't really think it is debatable. Just the fact the the memo and the firing were so controversial, in both directions, implies that a number of strong critical thinkers are on both sides of this issue. Assuming that is the case, it's not reasonable to use the memo as evidence of a lack of critical thinking.

And I think we all know Google didn't fire him because they believed him to be incompetent. In fact, Google didn't even claim as much, they fired him for "advancing harmful gender stereotypes." How can we ever have a genuine conversation about the under-representation of women in tech if people with a certain "undesirable" opinion get fired for expressing it?


Climate change is controversial. That doesn't indicate that there are strong critical thinkers on either side.


Apparently the idea that there are biological differences between men and women that could result in unequal outcomes is also controversial.

Although, to your point, that doesn't really require critical thinking. It just requires impressive mental gymnastics to dispute.


I don't think anyone is disputing that there are biological differences between men and women (on the average) that result in unequal distributions of some outcomes. An easy example is "fastest marathon" or "number of babies".

The dispute is that there are biological differences between men and women that are relevant to qualification to work at Google in software engineering.


Nobody is questioning their qualification. The memo doesn't.

There quite possibly are biological (and cultural) differences that ultimately affect the representation of women among Google software engineers that are not sexism. As a result, a diversity / hiring policy that assumes sexism is far and away the only relevant cause is not likely to work well.

Is this really that much of a stretch?


That's the argument alt-right folk who actually deserve our hostility are trying to use Damore to make. Damore, however, is instead arguing that those biological differences make women less likely to pursue engineering as a field, not that those difference make them inferior.


Then why are the programs he's criticizing all about either successfully hiring or retaining women who are already interested in working at Google?

He also explicitly mentions ability: "Note, I’m not saying that all men differ from all 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."

(Also, let's be clear, someone who seeks out the support of Stefan Molyneux to advocate his viewpoint cannot be meaningfully distinguished from alt-right folks who supposedly want to distort his viewpoint.)


People's qualifications are not all the same. Imagine that Google wants to hire 1,000 people, but 10,000 people apply for a job. Then Google logically ought to take the best 1,000 people that apply.

With diversity quota's, the company may decide to hire a less able woman in favor of a more able man.


The reality is that 2,000 of them are indistinguishably good and diversity programs are intended to make sure that google hires equally able women out of that group instead of choosing all the men.


Imagine a theoretical scenario where they have 500 female applicants and 9,500 male applicants, but desperately want a 50/50 workforce. Then they logically would hire all female applicants, including those who are not part of the 2000 most capable applicants.

Using your number, with 2k out of 10k applications being indistinguishable elite, that means 1 in 5 applicants are suitable to be hired on merit. Assuming that female applicants are no better or worse than the men, you'd expect 100 of those 500 female applicants to be indistinguishable from 1,900 male applicants.

So then 400 women would be hired who are in fact distinguishable worse than those elite 100 women and 1,900 men.


You clearly have no idea how hiring works at major tech companies like Google.

1: Even if there are a 1000 positions, and only 1000 candidates, if they are underqualified, they do not get hired. Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc, try to have an objective bar, not one relative to the available candidates.

2: Nobody is pressuring for a 50/50 workforce. It's an ideal, and a reasonable-sounding long term goal, but even the most aggressive pro-diversity initiatives do not set a target of 50/50 ratio. In fact, in most cases HIRE targets aren't set at all. The targets are set for opportunities - ie number of diversity candidates evaluated or interviewed. The hiring process remains pure.

Source: Work for major top-10 tech company and do a ton of hiring, and diversity training.


> Imagine a theoretical scenario where they have 500 female applicants and 9,500 male applicants, but desperately want a 50/50 workforce.

I agree with your conclusions from these stats, but why is this theoretical scenario relevant? Do we believe that this more closely resembles the actual scenario than one where there are, say, 4,000 female applicants and 6,000 male ones?


Women get 18% of computer science degrees, so it seems doubtful that Google would get a 40/60 split in applicants.

But the specific numbers are not the point of my comment. The issue is that if there is a lot of pressure to get a 50/50 workforce, but the pipeline is not 50/50, then favoring less qualified men over more qualified women becomes a possibility or even very likely, since how else are you going to achieve this?

I think that it is up to those who desperately want a 50/50 workforce (just for tech, not for most of the other gender-imbalanced jobs) to make the case how they can do this without sexist discrimination in hiring or if they do favor sexism in hiring to make that explicit.


The company may also decide to hire a less able man in favor of a more able woman.

Given that the vast majority of incompetent people I've worked with have been men (if not all of them), I'm surprised to see less attention to this phrasing of the problem. Maybe it is too politically incorrect to bring up?


> Given that the vast majority of incompetent people I've worked with have been men (if not all of them), I'm surprised to see less attention to this phrasing of the problem. Maybe it is too politically incorrect to bring up?

I downvoted this.

Given that there is a fair amount of incompetence in tech; that there is also a significant number of women in tech; that you are not a junior person and that men and women have similar abilities, I find this statistically implausible. Please consider the possibility that you have a subconscious sexist bias against men.


> Given that there is a fair amount of incompetence in tech; that there is also a significant number of women in tech; that you are not a junior person and that men and women have similar abilities, I find this statistically implausible.

Why is this statistically implausible?

There is a fair amount of incompetence in tech; there are a significant number of women in tech; I am not junior; men and women have similar abilities; many men seek tech because it's high-status instead of because of intrinsic technical interest (Damore 2017); many men have a sexist bias towards men.

The natural statistical result is that while both competent men and competent women get hired (as they should!), incompetent men get hired much more often than incompetent women.

Is this logic flawed?

> Please consider the possibility that you have a subconscious sexist bias against men.

I am certainly considering that possibility, and I know exactly why I might have that bias if it is in fact a bias: every single person I've been frustrated at working with has been a man. I don't want to be biased, and would definitely appreciate being talked out of this, if it is in fact a bias.


Agreed, not implausible. Sorry for downvote. Actually after having thought about this a bit, there are many possibilities.

One (the one you seem to be in favor of) is that due to higher hiring standards even if the average abilities are similar, after the hiring filter average woman is more skilled than the average man.

Another is that (just like it was described in https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14988086) you have lower standards for women than for men so that you cut incompetent women some slack.

Yet another is that while the averages are similar, men are much more varying in their abilities, so that both ends of spectrum (outstanding competence and extreme incompetence) are dominated by men.

Etc. There can be a lot of explanations besides the bias in hiring and without some empirical evidence it is difficult to choose.

FWIW I've met my share of incompetent women. But I'm not US-based, and that might explain the difference.


> many men have a sexist bias towards men.

Proof? Gender neutralized experiments find a great variety of results, with sometimes a bias in favor of women and sometimes a bias in favor of men. There is no consistency here that can be seen as proof that men are always biased towards men.

I'm not aware of any scientific studies in the tech field, but this layman experiment in tech with voice masking for phone interviews found that women who were made to sound like men were rated slightly worse and men whose voice was masked to sound more like women were rated better:

http://blog.interviewing.io/we-built-voice-modulation-to-mas...

They found that the actual reason why women did worse in their interviews is that women handled failure at the interview worse than men. The women often quit after initial failure, while the men persevered and came back to try again. So it was an issue with how men and women were conditioned to handle failure in combination with the way their hiring practices were set up, NOT discrimination by the interviewers against women.

This kind of discovery is exactly why we need less of the kind of 'common sense' that results in people assuming they know the cause (usually by putting all blame on one group) and more actual research into the causes.

> Is this logic flawed?

Your logic is not flawed, but it's nothing more than a theory when you don't have solid evidence to back it up.

There are equally plausible explanations that you did not consider. For example, we know that men are more willing to take risk, including risk of failing by the Peter principle. So women are often unwilling to take jobs they do not know for sure they cannot do. This latter explanation actually explains the known facts a lot better than the 'men are much less willing to hire women' theory.

> I know exactly why I might have that bias if it is in fact a bias: every single person I've been frustrated at working with has been a man.

That is merely justification for being less willing to work with men, not justification for assuming that men are biased to hiring men AND that this is the main/only cause of the disparity. You have inserted a ton of assumptions to get from A (worse experiences with men) to B (assuming that the cause of the gender disparity is gender discrimination during hiring). The sheer quantity of assumptions necessary should drive a rational person to verify whether these assumptions are true.

I see you as biased for jumping to conclusions and especially for defending retributions against those who question those assumptions. At that point, my charity ends and those who desperately want to blame one group and who are unwilling to consider the possibility that anything they do to that group can be unjust, get lumped in with the other evil groups who desperately wanted to blame one group and were willing to harm that group.


The hiring ratios for Google track the ratios of the applicants, so that could only be true if the female applicants are better than the male applicants. This may be true, but I've seen no evidence of this.

That the vast majority of incompetent people you've worked with have been men can be explained by the gender ratio at Google. If most workers are men, then most incompetent workers would also be men, if men and women are equally likely to be incompetent.

My impression is that female workers at Google disproportionately work in the less technically hardcore jobs, which may actually be easier to be competent at or you may interact with those workers differently. So this may also skew your anecdotal observation.

Damore may have been worried about an increase in pressure to hire women leading to hiring women for the more technically hardcore jobs, which given the few female applicants for these jobs, could then lead or may already have led to worse hires then if there had been no pressure by the company to have pro-female gender bias.


> How can we ever have a genuine conversation about the under-representation of women in tech if people with a certain "undesirable" opinion get fired for expressing it?

The same way we can have a genuine conversation about the best web stack to use if people with a certain "undesirable" opinion get fired for expressing it.

(I don't think the fact that other Google employees supported the document is strong evidence that you can think critically and reach the same conclusions. If Google reached one mishire in James Damore, they almost certainly reached many others. If you listen to the YouTube interview with him that was flagkilled off the front page earlier today, he says he was recruited for his puzzle-solving skills and ability to code; presumably Google recruits lots of people that way, and none of them have ever been examined for critical thinking in the interview process. I can certainly attest that at no point in my Google interview earlier this year was I asked to do anything that evaluated whether I could combine a couple of sources and reach a defensible conclusion and defend it, which is a pretty common engineering skill.)

The very meaning of "advancing harmful gender stereotypes" is that he said things about gender that were so wrong that they have only the most tangential connection to reality and would seriously harm the business if time were spent to even demonstrate that they're wrong. That's exactly the same reason that if I advocate for Classic ASP on NT Server, you don't spend the time and effort to set up a test network and benchmark if IIS is getting you better performance.


> The same way we can have a genuine conversation about the best web stack to use if people with a certain "undesirable" opinion get fired for expressing it.

If a bunch of people fired for pro-ASP opinions got together, started their own company that used ASP, and produced a successful product, they would get a lot of money, everyone involved would be happy including Google who would sell them ad services, and perhaps the market would shift in favor of ASP.

If a bunch of people fired for anti-"diversity" opinions got together, started their own company that did not discriminate in favor of women and minorities in hiring, and produced a successful product, there would be a media storm and probably a boycott and demands for the company to not be allowed to use the Google Ad network.

This is why I think you're wrong when you say the reasons for firing are "exactly the same" in both cases.


Say I work at a business that uses python exclusively. If I see my coworker get fired for suggesting we use haskell (or some other very different stack) for performance-critical code, how likely is it that I would later suggest we rewrite some stuff in go? or even python 3? or use https?

The opinion that biological differences between the sexes result in different career preferences isn't exactly wildly uncommon, extreme, or nonsensical.


I guess the question here is whether we think that the opinions in the memo are more like advocating Haskell or advocating ASP. They seem like the latter to me; if they seemed like the former, I'd agree with you. I don't think it's weird to think that there exist both rare defensible opinions and rare indefensible ones.

Note that the opinion in the memo isn't restricted to different career preferences correlated with gender (at least some of those opinions in the memo, like women wanting better work/life balance and men having rigid gender roles, are so uncontroversial that they're part of the standard feminist position too). The opinion also includes the claim of different abilities correlated with gender, because that's what's relevant to the business practices he's arguing in favor of changing, and in particular abilities relevant to qualification for engineering roles at Google. That's a much more extreme position.


> Yes -- the management of the company decided this.

...yet nobody took personal offense because of the implication that some of them shouldn't be there. That's the point.

I'll agree that the context is questionable... but only because we don't have the details. I don't think there's anything inherently unreasonable about making a case for a change in hiring policy.

If the place where it was posted was specifically used to discuss how company policies can be improved, it seems reasonable. If it's a place only visible to HR and management, it seems reasonable. If it's a place specifically for topics that are potentially political and offensive in nature, it seems reasonable (even if internal). If posts in support of (or proposing extending) the existing diversity policy were effectively allowed in that place, it seems reasonable.

It's the double standard where one set of politics is approved and encouraged, but the other is fireable that is problematic.


Google's "pro-diversity" hiring policies also have the unavoidable implication that some of Damore's colleagues actually shouldn't be with the company.

The broader patriarchy/privilege theory behind those "pro-diversity" policies has the unavoidable implication that many of those white male colleagues really shouldn't have their careers (and many other rewarding parts of their lives) at all, because they are based on 'oppressing' others.

There are poison grenades being thrown constantly by every side; only a severe double standard would allow someone to ignore this.

The real solution is to realize that any criticism of hiring policies (including criticism by 'diversity' advocates) means someone shouldn't have been hired. And then, to act like an adult and deal with it rationally anyways.

>unsupported biological claims

The claims are very well-supported by decades of research. Some journalistic outlets removed the links to Damore's sources from the copies of the memo they redistributed, to make the claims look unsupported. Don't fall into that trap.

If you want to see some of the research, Pinker has your back: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mYeZ9by-eM

Damore was very clear, neutral, and professional. But, there is no way in any universe Damore could have delivered that message where you would not criticize it like this. No matter how careful he was, you'd simply set the bar further out, increase the emotional sensitivity even more, engage in even more aggressive mind-reading and hostile misinterpretation. His writing could never, ever, in any form, never meet your ever-shifting standard because your standard is designed to be impossible to meet.

The reality is that you want him to be silent and you'll seek any excuse for him to suffer for questioning beliefs you see as morally obligated.

Saying, "He can of course question, but he has to do it better," while actually having impossible standard, is just a way to look/feel like you're being open when you're not.

It actually resembles behaviors you see in abusive relationships - the impossible standard that shifts every time it's met.


> The claims are very well-supported by decades of research. Some journalistic outlets removed the links to Damore's sources from the copies of the memo they redistributed, to make the claims look unsupported. Don't fall into that trap.

I have previously refuted the idea that the claims are supported by research. See the first part of this comment, which is based on reading the version of the document that does have the sources:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14956998

It's true that there's decades of research cited. It's true that he makes claims. It's not true that the research supports the claims he's making.


It's not possible to "refute" or "prove" his claims. There were many specific claims, and scientists still debate many of them.

The bigger point is anyone that thinks his claims are 100% true or 100% false is definitely wrong.


I have not attempted to refute his claims; they're too messy to make it a coherent task.

I have refuted the idea put forth by other people that his claims are supported by the scientific research he links to.

(My position, upthread of that comment, is that the document itself doesn't so much make claims that are wrong as display the deficiency of the author's critical-thinking skills to such an extent that Google should not have hired him. Imagine trying to read a design document or an outage postmortem written to the same level of coherence and with the same level of intellectual honesty.)


Some of his claims are supported by the linked documents, some are not. Again, there are so many, any conclusion of "100% are supported" or "100% are not" is going to be false.


Can you name one claim that is relevant to diversity at Google that is supported by any of the linked documents?

I do agree (and admit as much in that comment!) that there are claims that he correctly cites, e.g. "Women score higher for 'neuroticism' as defined by psychology." My contention is that none of those claims are relevant to any plausible thesis of the document.

(I think that saying "there exist irrelevant claims that are supported by science" is completely pedantic. If I write an nonsense essay about garbage collection vs. refcounting and correctly cite a scientific paper on the acidity of apple juice, I think it's perfectly justifiable to say that none of my claims are supported, since it's not an essay about apple juice.)


Sure, here is a concrete example of a linked document that supports his position http://www.bradley.edu/dotAsset/165918.pdf and the references therein. In particular,

> sex differences in personality traits can be detected in early childhood [..] and remain fairly constant across adulthood [..] The effects of these sex differences lead to predictable differences in men’s and women’s leisure behaviors, occupational preferences, and health-related outcomes [emphasis mine]

Overall I think it's possible for reasonable people to disagree on whether group differences in neuroticism and agreeability or an affinity to people vs. things etc. etc. are or are not not relevant to the thesis. I respect your point of view that they do not. I'm just saying a reasonable argument can be made for the other side too.

(To be clear, he also makes several bad arguments, I'm not defending him. I'm just saying that some of his claims are supported by science.)


As a side note, the first author of that very paper (Schmitt) says that Damore has reached conclusions not justified by the paper:

https://www.wired.co.uk/article/google-fires-engineer-over-a...

He's making the same counterclaim that I am - that while there are biological differences and they almost certainly affect interest, there's basically no rationale to conclude that they're the cause of the specific situation Google is attempting to change with the specific initiatives he's denouncing (and calling illegal), and there's also no rationale to entirely discount cultural factors, including both gender roles and sexism, as causes of the situation.


Yes, I agree his suggestions to stop those initiatives is a bad idea. And that it doesn't follow we should stop those because of that study.

But regarding

> and there's also no rationale to entirely discount cultural factors

He doesn't do that. First, the section's very title is

> Possible non-bias causes of the gender gap in tech

and

> I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes

(emphasis mine in both). Proposing that biology may play a role is not the same as saying that biology is everything.


geofft,

By your reasoning brighteyes has just proven that you have reached conclusions not justified by the paper, so will you resign from your job, given that you think such incompetence on the part of Dalmore is inexcusable and makes him incapable to do his job?


If this were an internal company forum where I were making serious policy proposals that I expected the company to take seriously -- that is, if this were something I were doing as part of my job, and I were paying as much attention to detail as I should for every part of my job -- and if I had a senior title, then yes, definitely, I would offer my resignation or at least request a demotion. I would be letting my coworkers down if I continued to insist on a senior title and senior levels of respect. But I am being much less rigorous here than I would be for work. I don't try to be deliberately wrong on HN, but my standards for accuracy and professionalism (and copyediting, there are incomplete sentences in too many of my comments) are less exacting than they are for my employed work.

(And if I have done such a thing, which I don't believe I have. I'm really not sure why you say I've reached conclusions not justified by the paper?)


During his interview with Jordan Peterson, Damore explained that he was looking for criticism/push back against his claims, which was why he posted it to a Skeptics forum within Google.

He didn't actually present it directly to management, nor did he publish it publicly. Many people improve their work by asking for feedback, so you seem to demand the impossible: for him to create something great, but without allowing him to refine his work in a way that many people need to create something great.

BTW. I am not aware that Damore had a senior job title and even if he had, his job didn't involve writing rigorous papers. So I'm not sure how you can say that this document proves that he was bad at his job. In his interview he said that his last performance review put him in the top few percent of performers at Google. So if we assume that he is not lying, you seem have drawn wild conclusions based on weak evidence, that far stronger evidence actually contradicts.


> BTW. I am not aware that Damore had a senior job title and even if he had, his job didn't involve writing rigorous papers.

What else is a design document or review, a non-LGTM code review, or an outage postmortem beyond a rigorous paper? The skills are exactly the same: you have to take external research and internal data about your business practices, and explain why the observed facts were as observed, what the company should do about it, and why your proposed approach is correct.

This is a significant part of every job I've had, and Google tried to hire me earlier this year at only L4 and not L5. (The fact that Damore was L5 is well-attested by both pro-Damore and anti-Damore sources.)

When I'm not sure about something, I'll generally ask a question like "Hey, why are we using Debian instead of Fedora" or "Hey, why are we structuring on-call like this, the SRE book says we should structure it like that," and look for an explanation. I won't write a document saying "This is why Fedora is better than Debian and why all the attempts to use Debian are based in a fundamental misunderstanding of reality" and then ask for criticism.

> In his interview he said that his last performance review put him in the top few percent of performers at Google.

Who were his reviewers? Did they deserve their jobs either? Given what I know of Google's hiring practices, I would be entirely unsurprised if there are many pockets in the company consisting of incompetent people propping each other up.

This is a well-known phenomenon in large companies. Quoting Guy Kawasaki recalling something he learned from Steve Jobs:

Steve believed that A players hire A players—that is people who are as good as they are. I refined this slightly—my theory is that A players hire people even better than themselves. It’s clear, though, that B players hire C players so they can feel superior to them, and C players hire D players. If you start hiring B players, expect what Steve called “the bozo explosion” to happen in your organization.


Occupational preferences are not the subject of the document, though. The subject is occupational qualification. The specific things he criticizes Google for doing are actions taken once minority candidates have already applied for a job, that is, once they have already expressed interest in the occupation they're applying for: they're about reducing unconscious bias in hiring, reducing the false negative rate in Google's notoriously noisy interview process, ensuring that internal groups meet standards of representation, etc.

I just reread the document to confirm I read it right the first time. The subtle implication, and I'd argue one of the most harmful effects of the document, is the claim that biases (whether from nature or nurture) in interest also translate to biases in ability. There's a huge difference between saying "More men than women are interested in the job but we've got to hire the most qualified people regardless of either gender or interest" (and he almost gets there in his discussion of men seeking high-status jobs!), which I don't think I could really complain about, and "More men than women are interested in the job so our efforts to hire women are 'effectively lowering the bar' and probably illegal."

If you are at the point where you have 10 resumes on your desk from 10 qualified women, and 10 resumes on your desk from 10 qualified men, and you put together a team of 9 men and one woman, no matter how true it is that women as a whole are less interested in the job, it's not relevant.

(Incidentally, that's a quote from the portion of the abstract where they're mentioning existing research instead of their own, and it cites three sources, the first of which is a book by a lawyer that appears to be targeted at the general non-fiction market. I'm rather surprised that this is a permissible citation in a scientific paper, and I'm wondering if my standards are wrong or this isn't a super reputable journal.)


> Occupational preferences are not the subject of the document, though. The subject is occupational qualification.

No, he talks about both:

> 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.

and

> These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas.

(emphasis mine in both cases). And that linked document does support that claim of his.

(Again, I'm not defending all his claims; just that one.)


Sure, I agree that he consciously talks about both preference and ability. Why is he talking about preference? Does that have to do with his thesis?

I think it's because he wants to write sentences like that one about "preferences and abilities" in an attempt to pretend that arguments about preferences translate to arguments about abilities.

That is, I would have agreed with a claim that he has two distinct theses (preferences and abilities), except that the actual purpose of the essay is indisputably about abilities, and there's no reason to also add a thesis about preferences other than to muddy the discussion about abilities. A similar essay about preferences alone wouldn't have drawn nearly as much attention because it wouldn't be suggesting that the women already at Google shouldn't be there and it wouldn't be relevant to the Google D&I programs he mentions.


> Why is he talking about preference? Does that have to do with his thesis?

If preferences partially explain why psychology is dominated by women and why computer science is dominated by men, then preferences can partially explain part of why psychologists tend to be women and tech employees tend to be men.

And that's a big part of the memo: why is there a gender gap, what causes it, etc. So it's not surprising that one issue he focuses on is preferences. And he's not alone in doing so, that preferences are important in the tech gender gap discussion is something agreed upon by both sides:

* A lot of important diversity work done by progressives focuses on increasing interest in tech among young girls: girls' preferences matter.

* And on the other side, conservatives tend to say that preferences explain most of the tech gender gap and not discrimination.


Preferences are important. I'm not disputing that. And there are definitely gender correlations in preferences (I agree with at least three of his points here, namely that women seek better work-life balance, that men seek high-status position, and that there's more work to be done in dismantling the patriarchy's oppression of men who don't conform to gender roles).

I am disputing that preferences are relevant to the business purpose of this memo, which was to claim that what Google does with applicants once they have applied is both unlikely to work and illegal.

I am also disputing, more directly, that he or anyone has shown that preferences are relevant to the gender gap for engineering roles at Google; I'd think that there exist both more qualified men and more qualified who are interested in working at Google than Google has positions for, and the difficulty is in identifying these people. This is supported by how the specific diversity initiatives that the author calls out are all about properly evaluating applicants, and none are about encouraging people to apply or have an interest in the field. (And anecdotally, as someone who received a job offer from Google in May and spent three months going through team selection and ended up accepting another offer, both my own experience and the stories of others I've talked to both inside and outside Google is that headcount is sparse.)

These two claims I'm making (that preferences are irrelevant, and that the memo does not argue that preferences are relevant) are definitely falsifiable, so I'm interested in evidence to the contrary.

Note that this is a different point from the gender gap in tech as a whole. I'd definitely believe that preferences are much more relevant there, especially if we count things like wanting better work/life balance (or wanting better maternity leave, etc.) as preferences.


The memo does care about the gender gap in tech as a whole, while you are focusing more on Google's specific policies regarding applicants.

Clearly both are important topics, and they have some obvious connections - for example, the gender gap as a whole often motivates specific corporate policies, that's one reason he brings it up - but they can also be debated separately.

So I think it's fair to say the memo does make some valid points, but it looks like you think it's wrong on other points that it makes in other areas (which could well be true).


Damore was very clear, neutral, and professional.

He wasn't professional because it is not his job to debate this at work! I don't understand how this very simple point gets lost. A public corporation is not a democracy.


His (and all Googlers) opinion was solicited. His mistake was accepting that solicitation and having a politically unacceptable position.


The context of his memo is an internal gender studies mailing list, which is supposed to serve exactly these kinds of discussions. It's not like he sent this document to unsuspecting employees.


It's hard not to be reminded of Mao's Hundred Flowers Campaign (百花运动) [1] and Anti-Rightist Movement (反右运动) [2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundred_Flowers_Campaign

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Rightist_Movement


> Damore's firing was unavoidable under current US law

Could you elaborate on this?


This comment by macrael includes a link that explains the legal issue:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14966388

Regardless of what you think of the merits, a public corporation can't afford a persistent shadow of workplace discrimination. Firing the responsible employee was the only possible option.

It's not a free speech issue, as there is no such thing in a work environment. Here's an exaggerated example: if you call the CEO a "limp-dicked faggot" on the corporate intranet, you can expect to be fired, and it probably won't help much if you explain that you simply wanted to have a frank discussion on whether the CEO should use Viagra and be more open about his possible homosexuality, and that you hope this argument would be examined based on facts rather than emotions.


We'll never be able to discuss this rationally as long as one side continues to make false claims about what the memo said.

The memo doesn't promote discrimination, and in fact, raises concerns about how the existing policy is legally murky because it does--just in the other direction.

Your analogy is ridiculous, and just because some people perceive discrimination doesn't mean any has occurred. That there's a legal issue if you presume it has simply because people were offended is immaterial.


>a public corporation can't afford a persistent shadow of workplace discrimination

I haven't read all of the memo, but it didn't seem to me that he was advocating discrimination. Wasn't the point that he claimed there _was_ discrimination and he wanted it to end?

In any case, I can understand that actually discriminating in hiring could be illegal, but would _advocating for discrimination_ really be against the law, if that's what he actually did?


>(Damore's firing was unavoidable under current US law.)

If he wasn't lying when he said he'd filed a claim with the National Labor Relations Board, his firing was illegal under current US law.


> If he wasn't lying when he said he'd filed a claim with the National Labor Relations Board, his firing was illegal under current US law.

Only, as I understand, if it was in retaliation for the claim; firing for the memo, and any perceived hostile workplace effects it had, would not be illegal (and may actually contribute to avoiding liability for that conduct.)

Of course, if he made a claim it will be a disputed question of fact as to whether or not it was retaliation.


Once its crimethink to entertain a certain position, the cost of defending such position must be balanced with cost of just accepting this position and moving on. I don't think you can change cultural values and entire political climate with just facts and logic. Its a naive reductionism to assume "right ideas always win". Most people don't 'believe' in that, they have ideas, beliefs and emotions. Facts and logic come second to rationalize the above.


A problem with this kind of analysis of the situation is that everyone thinks they're in the "subtle and qualified" camp.


It should be obvious that anyone arguing against having a rational discussion is wrong about being in that camp.


The US has a long history of using the "rational discussion" argument to shut rational people up:

https://aeon.co/essays/how-cold-war-philosophy-permeates-us-...

Also, any sentence with "it should be obvious" raises a red flag with me - usually it is uttered by people don't actually want to reflect on whatever they are asserting to be true.


> The US has a long history of using the "rational discussion" argument to shut rational people up:

The chancelor in the article you cited is arguing in favor of censorship. I am arguing against it. I don't understand why you think there are similarities, unless you are comparing us because we both use the word rational.

> Also, any sentence with "it should be obvious" raises a red flag with me - usually it is uttered by people don't actually want to reflect on whatever they are asserting to be true.

If you have an actual argument to present I would have happy to "reflect" on it, but this sort of meta-argument usually raises a red flag for me because they are usually made be people who are unwilling to discuss the content of the argument being made.


You're responding to a comment that almost literally says "opposing sides of any discussion always consider themselves the rational half" and you don't see the connection?

You imply that it is obvious to decide who is rational or irrational. It is not - everyone is biased to be blind to their own irrationality.

People are not as rational as they think, and the more someone is in denial of having an irrational side to them, the more irrational their behaviour; people who admit they are wrong more often are the least wrong on average.

Nobody here is claiming that irrationality trumps rationality, so your response is tautological, akin to "obviously the side who is wrong is wrong." It doesn't add anything to the discussion, other than implying that one camp is clearly the irrational one as a counter-argument to the problem that it is hard to decide who is rational and who isn't, without actively trying to overcome your own biases and comfort zones.


First off, when you quote something, please actually quote it, or at least be specific. I had a quite a time trying to figure what "a comment" and "Your statement" were referring to.

> You imply it is obvious to decide who is rational or irrational. It is not - everyone is biased to be blind to their own irrationality.

Yes, that is why having a discussion is important. So that people can be exposed to arguments that challenge their irrationality. It is only obvious that one side is being irrational when they refuse to have a discussion (and by extension refuse to consider the possibility that they are wrong).

> Your statement is tautological, akin to "obviously the side who is wrong is wrong."

And yet some people are still against having the discussion. If you believe that my post is a tautology, then it follows logically that anyone who disagrees with it is trivially wrong.


It's possible to disagree with your post as in "this post adds no information and doesn't make the point that it thinks it makes" in contrast to "this post is logically invalid".


Not obviously.

Or at least not if we're talking about having public rational discussions about it. The validity and correct interpretation of evidence is extremely hard for a lay audience to judge.

Putting a climate scientist and a climate science denier on a podium to have a rational discussion is not likely to lead the audience to a more rational decision. Ditto for creationists.

Does this concrete case fall into this category? My initial guess would have been no, and that a more rational engagement would have been the better way to go about it.

But after reading parts of the memo, and skimming the rest, I am not sure any more. There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that most of the gender structure we see today is cultural. This is not in contradiction to the existence of innate differences. The problem of the memo isn't that it differs from this consensus, the problem is that it doesn't acknowledge it (and rather treats it as a misguided "extreme and authoritarian" ideology).

I believe there are many things in the academic consensus worth criticising, I also believe that there are many more things in the political consensus built around it to criticise. But that's not really what this memo does.

For example, it selectively cites a tiny corner of the research literature, conveniently ignoring the mountains of evidence that don't fit the stated thesis.


> conveniently ignoring the mountains of evidence that don't fit the stated thesis.

This is a tricky subject: http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/12/12/beware-the-man-of-one-s...

As a (relative) laymen, I think he makes a good effort. And he doesn't even seem to assume his conclusions, instead inviting further discussion on the topic.


There is a difference between not wanting to participate in a discussion because you believe it to be unfruitful/counterproductive, and trying to actively shut down other peoples discussions. I was criticizing people who do the latter. Does that address your issue with my assertion?


Maybe. I am arguing that one shouldn't participate in "rational discussions" with people who don't adhere to the standards of rational discussion themselves, especially in public.

If you disagree with me, and want to enter into such discussions, I obviously can't stop you (and might aid you). But if I had a platform, I might not lend it to you to have your discussion in public. Would you count that as shutting down other people's discussion? If not then we have no significant disagreement.

And for the record, I think shaming people into being silent about their opinions, even if they are demonstrably incorrect, instead of trying to change them, strikes me as a big mistake.

So there is a difficult balancing act between not allowing people to propagate irrational believes that don't engage with the available evidence (and promote views that are actively harmful to a part of the population), and engaging with people to convince them of the evidence and the rational view.


> standards of rational discussion

> views that are actively harmful to a part of the population

Unless explicit clarified, these are too open to abuse and scope creep.

Consider - one of the few "loopholes" to free speech is speech considered "hateful"; As such we see an active effort to expand what is considered "hateful", and any call to censorship will now begin with a justification of applying the label to its target, however contrived that link might be.


First of all, this has nothing to do with free speech. Rational discussion is a very specific form of speech. It's a great cultural achievement that needs to be defended, it is not a natural or even inevitable outcome of free speech.

Habermas for example studied in depth the conditions for speech to produce reason:

E.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communicative_rationality

Secondly, yes, drawing the line is difficult, there are grey areas, and we should be careful, but refusing to draw a line is the opposite of being careful or rational.

And it's not like free speech is the only value humanity ever came up by which to judge things. Taking for example the human rights declaration, freedom of expression is one of the basic rights. But sometimes rights are in conflict with each other. Then we have to make a choice how to weight the various rights.

That's why we have libel and defamation laws everywhere.


> It's a great cultural achievement that needs to be defended

I agree, but in the context of an opponent capable of censoring you that doesn't appreciate this, all you can do is fall back on legal protections. In this case, the potential for a rational, productive discussion was cut short.

A level of freedom to speech is required to promote rational debate. It's a necessary, bedrock requirement, even if not a sufficient one.

> refusing to draw a line is the opposite of being careful or rational

I don't think a line was drawn. The google rep alluded to "false assumptions" but didn't specify what they where, and even refused to link the memo. They clarified nothing but an atmosphere hostile to open discussion.

> we have to make a choice how to weight the various rights

True, but the rights are somewhat solidified. There is a longstanding right to "freedom of speech". There is no such right "freedom to not be offended". Whatever right is being asserted here (by the offended parties) appears to be something new.

> libel and defamation laws

I think the author has been defamed - there are plenty articles "summarizing" the memo in ways that are not representative of it's content - even the label "anti-diversity". I was shocked to find a fairly sober article on the issue in the Atlantic, of all places: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/the-mos...


There'll no doubt be many responses along this line but...

> There is a longstanding right to "freedom of speech"

...is only true in certain limited circumstances, all pertaining to the government (fed, state, local), I believe.

You do not, generally, even in the USA, have a right to "freedom of speech" wherever you are. And you definitely don't have "free (from consequences) speech" anywhere.


Since I'm not American, I'll leave this one for others.

But, I'd ask what "freedom from consequences" means?

There are certain consequences arising from free speech that are, in some sense, protected.

Can I (as a non-government entity) fire someone for choosing a certain religion, for example? Wouldn't that be a "consequence" of their choice?


> Can I (as a non-government entity) fire someone for choosing a certain religion, for example?

Yes. Can you do it without consequences to yourself? No, because that is almost certainly a protected case in law.


Then I'm not sure what your point is. "freedom" in this context usually relates to the law. As such "freedom to X" usually implies the legal framework to support X.

If you are saying "freedom to X doesn't mean no legal consequences" then the phrase would be meaningless.


> "freedom" in this context usually relates to the law.

Then where is the "a right to freedom of speech" enshrined in the law? The USA doesn't have that - only limited protection from the government. The UK certainly doesn't.


> only limited protection from the government

^ Here, this is it.


Yes, a certain level is required. I see no indication that freedom of speech _in the legal proper sense_ is restricted to anywhere near the level that it would be threatening rational discourse.

Indeed the types of speech targeted by laws typically is far removed from rational discourse.

And I am not aware of any laws, real or proposed, that would grant a "freedom to not be offended". So again, in this context, that's a red herring.

In this branch of the thread I was replying to the discussion whether anyone arguing against rational discourse is automatically irrational (not in the "subtle and qualified opinion" camp). A stance I disagreed with.

The whole freedom of speech issue is a complete distraction, as far as the discussion I was answering to was concerned, as well as as far as the case of the memo is concerned. Nobody was threatening legal actions against the author of the memo, were they?

So please, clean up your argumentation. I agree that there is too much shaming for unpopular opinions going on, but stop going to war under the free speech banner.

Admit that this is above all a cultural issue, not an issue of constitutional principles. There are all sorts of things that you are allowed to say (freedom of speech) while you definitely shouldn't say them, and you certainly can't expect a company, or anyone else for that matter, to not shun you for what you say (no freedom from consequence of speech).

If you argue that slavery should be reinstated, and Hitler did nothing wrong, he just wasn't thorough enough, then the consequences of this are on you.

I do believe that there is definitely a culture of shaming people into silence going on that has gone to far. I find the concrete case hard to adjudicate. It definitely at least straddles the boundary. The memo is ill informed and naive, but it's also not evidently written by someone immune to reason, and it does take some effort to minimize harm/offense to others.

If somebody on my team would write something like that I would ask them to come in for a discussion. I would force them to read the Pinker/Spelke discussion.

So by all means, let's push back against shaming people into silence, but let's not do it under an utterly naive banner that says "I should be allowed to say whatever I want". We all want to build a society that works for everyone. What the correct attitude to certain speech acts (like this memo) is, is not a matter of legal principle. It is a matter for rational debate.


> For example, it selectively cites a tiny corner of the > research literature, conveniently ignoring the mountains > of evidence that don't fit the stated thesis.

You really should provide some sort of reference on that claim.

I would say, that the consensus among psychologists in academia is the opposite of what you suggest: A majority of those people would admit that genes have a significant influence on differences in human behaviour, interests, capabilities etc.

Haidt & Jussim, May 16, 2016, Hard Truths about Race on Campus. Wall Street Journal. http://www.businessforum.com/WSJ_Race-on-Campus-05-06-2016.p...

Jussim, L. (2017). Why do Girls Tend to Prefer Non-STEM Careers? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/rabble-rouser/201707/wh...

Jussim, L. (2017). Gender Bias in STEM or Biased Claims of Gender Bias? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/rabble-rouser/201707/ge...

Ceci & Williams (2011). Understanding current causes of women’s underrepresentation in science. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108, 3157-3162. http://www.pnas.org/content/108/8/3157.full

Duarte et al (2015). Political diversity will improve social psychological science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, doi:10.1017/S0140525X14000430, e130 https://journals.cambridge.org/images/fileUpload/documents/D...

Pinker, S. (2002). The Blank Slate. New York: Penguin Books https://www.amazon.com/Blank-Slate-Modern-Denial-Nature/dp/0...

Wang et al (2013). Not lack of ability but more choice: Individual and gender differences in choice in careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Psychological Science, 24, 770-775. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797612458937

Williams & Ceci (2015). National hiring experiments reveal 2:1 faculty preference for women on STEM tenure track. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112, 5360-5365. http://www.pnas.org/content/112/17/5360.abstract

(this list was copied from http://quillette.com/2017/08/07/google-memo-four-scientists-... I have myself read 'The Blank Slate' by Steven Pinker. A very recommendable book)


I don't have time for an in depth response, but:

> A majority of those people would admit that genes have a significant influence on differences in human behaviour, interests, capabilities etc.

This is in no way in contradiction with anything I said. I specifically said the majority of the gender patterns we see are cultural. Not anything else.

I did not say either that "All human differences are cultural." nor that "All gender differences are cultural."

If you enjoy The Blank Slate, then you might be interested in reading Pinker debate with Spelke:

https://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/debate05/debate05_index.htm...


So given the "consensus" that "genes have a significant influence on differences in human behaviour, interests, capabilities etc.", you're basically saying that a significant and spontaneous, yet undetected, mutation appeared in the human female population, during the '80s [1] ?

[1] https://m.imgur.com/t/the_more_you_know/pkZPrOI


Nobody is arguing against rational discussion. The problem is, you can not have a rational discussion about what rational discussion means, since all parties would need to agree on a position in the first place to have a rational discussion.


Why?

Is it wrong to be against a rational discussion of the benefits of race-based slavery?

Is it wrong to be against a rational discussion of the benefits of child-slavery?

Is it wrong to be against a rational discussion of the benefits of childhood labor?

Is it wrong to be against a rational discussion of the benefits of racial discrimination?

Is it wrong to be against a rational discussion of the benefits of gender discrimination?

For some things, allowing that rational discussion is a reasonable option legitimizes things that should not be legitimized because they are against the very nature of human rights. For example a rational discussion of race-based slavery is something that legitimizes it as something within the bounds of reasonableness.

I don't know where the boundary is, but I'm sure that is isn't obvious that anyone arguing against having a rational discussion.


> Is it wrong to be against a rational discussion of the benefits of X

Yes, it is wrong for any topic, no matter how immoral you consider it.

If someone of "the other side" is willing to engage in discussion then this in itself already is a huge win since you're not at each other's throats or creating bubbles lined with strawmen blocking the view of the other side.

And maybe you consider the chance small, but they might be willing to concede a few points, even if you're not going to overturn their entire worldview. And you might gain a little better understanding of them so you don't have to attack a strawman and might be able to address whatever underlying issue actually drives them.

Even in actual wars - you know, where people are busy killing the other side - you can still have negotiations. Why not consider rational discussion a negotiation of viewpoints long before you start murdering each other?


This is an equivocation. There's such a thing as an is/ought distinction. The fact that there might be some rational description of morally abhorrent behavior doesn't lead to the conclusion that that behavior is acceptable. Understanding doesn't mean accepting. Darwinism, for instance, doesn't imply Social Darwinism. Neither do theories of criminal behavior attempt to legitimize crime.

And if anything, anyone who's appalled by these things should actually be interested in studying the conditions under which these things might happen, or under which they might be beneficial, so as to insure that these conditions are never met.


And if anything, anyone who's appalled by these things should actually be interested in studying the conditions under which these things might happen

I agree with this very strongly.

I'm not sure if (or why) this leads to the requirement to have a rational discussion with proponents of abhorrent ideas.

It's interesting. I used to believe that abhorrent ideas should be confronted. But I'm not longer convinced - it seems to me that attention is adequate in many cases to allow abhorrent ideas to spread.


>I'm not sure if (or why) this leads to the requirement to have a rational discussion with proponents of abhorrent ideas

Besides the difficulty of working alone, how can anyone challenge something they aren't willing to talk about? If anything is to be done about it, then people will have to start talking eventually, even if only for the purpose of political coordination.

I get that there's the issue of trying to present anything to an uninterested or uneducated audience in a way that they won't get the wrong idea. But assuming beforehand that they will get the wrong idea regardless of what you might do is just assuming failure. If everyone thought this way, nothing would ever be done: slavery, serfdom and child-labor wouldn't ever have ended.

Besides, ideas don't spread like that. Specially morally abhorrent ideas, because being "morally abhorrent" usually implies being politically unfeasible. Even the most terrible regimes tried to whitewash themselves because they knew what they were doing wouldn't fly with the populace.


> I'm not sure if (or why) this leads to the requirement to have a rational discussion with proponents of abhorrent ideas.

Who decides what is abhorrent? In what sense? Rational, yet undesirable?

> abhorrent ideas should be confronted

This is an entirely different think. A constructive (cooperative), rational discussion is different from an adversarial debate.

> to allow abhorrent ideas to spread

Again, who decides which ideas are to be silenced? And without discussion, in this case.

You are essentially advocating restricting individual choice, by restricting available information; pushing individuals towards the "correct" viewpoint by banning advocacy of any other. The US, in particular, and many other western countries, were founded on opposition to this philosophy.


I'm reluctant to get drawn into a discussion of who decides what ideas are abhorrent because it's a pretty big topic on its own.

BUT, I do think (hope?) we can agree that there are some ideas that are abhorrent. I use the example of race-based slavery above.

Why should I have a rational discussions about the economic benefits of race-based slavery? The cost/benefit analysis just doesn't seem to make sense - the cost is increased visibility of the arguments for race based slavery, and I'm unsure what possible benefits there are.


> BUT, I do think (hope?) we can agree that there are some ideas that are abhorrent. I use the example of race-based slavery above.

Well, if you feel confident that race-based slavery is in no way justifiable then it should be relatively easy to find arguments why it is not justifiable, no?

An obvious one would be pointing out largely overlapping intra- and inter-race variances in genetics.

If your race-based-slavery-advocate could actually show that specific races have attributes that make it the utilitarian choice to choose them then they would be making a valid point - on the assumption that it is necessary to have slaves in the first place - and you might want to shift to finding arguments against slavery in general instead of the slaver's specific choice of slaves.

Or you could argue that merit-based slavery is superior to using race as a proxy. E.g. genetic testing or performance evaluations of individuals.


And you believe that a paper arguing that "black people are genetically suited to being slaves and therefore we should not expect them to become managers at google in a demographically representative proportion" is a reasonable statement to make about Google promotion practices and should not lead to the speaker being fired, so long as he adds references to the Bell Curve and the lack of black executives America?


If he can back his arguments with research and they don't contain any logical flaws then one should at least entertain them for a few minutes. After all he might be (partially) right and do his employer a favor.

If he is wrong in ways that could be honest mistakes then one should first try to point out the mistakes so he can retract his document until he can find stronger evidence or truly see the error of his ways. For that to happen people need to respond with rational arguments, not with outrage.

If he is wrong and does not respond to counter-arguments and -evidence, then some HR response would be appropriate. And note that I say "HR response", not dogpiling and not necessarily firing.

Argument-by-firing will only harden the ideological frontlines and further extremes.


After all he might be (partially) right and do his employer a favor

So your point is that if a racist argument is partially right and good for an employer then it's all good??!


It appears that my words must be doing a terrible job at conveying my intent.

My point is that you should engage in rational discussion even if you think the other side holds an abhorrent, immoral, inhumane viewpoint. And there are many good reasons to do so. And just one of those many reasons is that the other side might be right about some things. Another is that engaging them in discussion is a much better approach of showing them where they are wrong, just punishing someone for holding unpopular views is unlikely to achieve that goal. Another one that I have not mentioned yet is simple reciprocity, you want others to extend that kind openness to discussion towards you when they think you're holding some view that is abhorrent according to their moral value system.


I'll be honest - I think your example is contrived and/or a strawman, because you chose a "topic" that already seems to have assumed its conclusion e.g Can we have a "rational discussion" on "The benefit that 2 + 2 = 5"?

> Why should I have a rational discussions..

I think the question here is whether you can censor other people who want to have that discussion, not whether they can force you to participate.

> I'm unsure what possible benefits there are

But you want to veto the topic anyway? It sounds like you want to win the game without playing. To be considered "right" you must bear the burden of the argument.


So which on my list isn't contrived?

I'd note that I'm asking question, and I keep getting "we don't need to discuss that" responses.


I think you got your answer early in the thread.

> Is it wrong to be against a rational discussion of (.+)\?

Yes, it is.

The rest is the discussion why - in particular by pointing out that rational discussion does not automatically imply that abhorrent conclusions will be reached or accepted. The primary thing about rational discussion is that some (or all) participants may be wrong. It's also the difference between discussion and shouting through each other.


The assumption of the right to decide what idea should be permitted to spread is an idea that's abhorrent to me. How can I combat it?


> legitimizes things that should not be legitimized

But how can you come to the conclusion things "should not be legitimized"? The topics "tolerance of homosexuality" or, "that god might not exist" both fell into that category. In absence of rational discussion, there is just sentimentality and bias.

I also think you've biased/unbalanced you topics with specific conclusions: "The benefits of X" - why would you insist on only discussing the benefits? It's a topic that makes certain assumptions.

> they are against the very nature of human rights

And atheist is against god, and homosexuality against nature. I think "human rights" is a more subjective concept than you might think.

> a rational discussion of race-based slavery is something that legitimizes it

How? What do you mean by "legitimize"? It only does so in a society that considers only "legitimate" topics to be up for discussion. If anything can be discussed, there would be no such perception that talking about something assigns it validity.

To summarise; Why is it harmful to discuss the above, unless you expect the outcome to be desirable. There is a difference between assuming a rational discussion, when the participants are incapable of a reasonable level of discourse; and an actual rational discussion. I would gladly hear Hitchens, Fry, Harris etc talk on the above topics.


I won't say whether it's 'right' or 'wrong', but it does suggest that you believe rationality is flimsy and elusive, and therefore censorship is required as a first line of defense, lest people think dangerous thoughts.


If you find a rational person willing to defend any of the points you made, then yes, it is wrong to be against that discussion.


A rational discussion of it does not mean defending it!

As Aristotle apparently said "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

If we can't even discuss certain topics, if we can't even think things through, then we've entered the realm of thought police.


But if discussion of abhorrent ideas is enough to spread them, is the benefit of that discussion worthwhile?

I ask this in a bit more depth here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14967029


It's obviously difficult to prove any position on this matter, but I definitely think it's worthwhile.

I think the idea that we should suppress mere discussion of certain topics is very dangerous, and could lead society down a very dark path.

Let's not forget that things like interracial marriage, gay marriage and equality for women were once widely considered "abhorrent ideas".


Well..

Your comment was marked as "dead" and I just vouched for it, so does that count as not trying to censor every idea that disagrees with me? ;)

But I'm not convinced. There have been plenty of racists with arguments they consider rational. I think they are factually wrong, but surely the real point is "what you are saying is offensive and immoral" rather than try to argue that (eg) the costs associated with keeping black slaves is too much for the income the bring.


If a viewpoint is censored (or controversial), it is human nature to seek it out, end even compensate it with more "weight" than it might otherwise be given. This is why the latest in rhetoric is not to censor something, but to explicitly acknowledge it and damn it with faint praise (or claim it is mediocre, boring, denounced etc).

Furthermore, another way to damn a viewpoint is to associate it with poor arguments; or to strengthen a claim surround it with strong (or at least battle-tested/accepted/familiar) arguments. You should be happy that a true claim is discussed, creating stronger arguments, and making those better known; and that false claims are also discussed, explicitly demonstrating the poor arguments used to defend them.

Now, whether a poor/strong argument is recognised as such, that is another issue, and goes to the "rational literacy" of the general public, which certainly is an issue (on both sides).


But there are no points, just topics.


Not all subjects are amenable to "rational discussion", since it's inherently a restricted format which has implicit rules about what does and does not count as "rational". It also tends to presume its own weightlessness. Men seem very unwilling to recognise that the memo and the discussion itself is harmful.


> Not all subjects are amenable to "rational discussion", since it's inherently a restricted format which has implicit rules about what does and does not count as "rational".

I don't see how this follows. Are you suggesting that some topics can only be discussed if the discussion includes a non-sequitur.

> Men seem very unwilling to recognise that the memo and the discussion itself is harmful.

On the balance it seems like trying to censor the discussion causes way more harm than having it. Particularly since trying to prevent the discussion inevitably produces a significantly more intense discussion.


No, the claim is that you cannot have context-free universally true premises for every type discussion.

Most of this discussion outrage is based on people on all sides not realising they start from different, inherently subjective premises, and then believe they can build a universally true objective claim on that card house.

EDIT: This is why I believe people in STEM fields would really benefit from spending some time learning about the qualitative sciences and the philosophy of science it builds on. Because unlike physics or maths it is not based on the often implicit notion of an objective external truth - it cannot be. In some ways it is much more challenging to do good science it in.

To me, appeals to "rational discussion" represent an unwillingness to accept that humans are messy, irrational creatures, and that rationality itself is but a tool, not an end-goal (and by extension, a denial of one's own irrationality). We're not modelling our society on Skinner-boxes for a reason.


> No, the claim is that you cannot have context-free universally true premises for every type discussion.

A core part of "rational discussion" (as I understand it) is separating premises from arguments, so that when someone comes to a conclusion you disagree with, you point out whether you disagree with the premises or the argument (or both) and then you can go into more detail to pinpoint where exactly the disagreement comes from.

The statement "Because Jews are possessed by mind-eating demons from Xzdrgs, the Holocaust was justified." is probably both too absurd in its premise and too abhorrent in its conclusion to warrant serious consideration, and yet if someone wanted to engage it in a rational discussion, they could do so, e.g. by stating that mind-eating demons from Xzdrgs don't exist or that assuming they did exist, you couldn't defeat them by killing the host, or any number of other arguments. Those arguments themselves are then subject to counterclaims based in the same principles of rational discussion, and so on.

Now I wonder whether you could turn "absurdist rational discussion" into a game and whether it would be any fun to play.


> No, the suggestion is that you cannot have context-free universally true premises for every type discussion.

This is not a prerequisite of all discussions.

> Most of this discussion outrage is based on people on all sides not realising they start from different, inherently subjective premises, and then believe they can build a universally true objective claim on that card house.

This is easy to discover and correct for if both parties approach the discussion without being disingenuous. Building a universally true objective claim is not the only possible end goal of discussion.


> This is not a prerequisite of all discussions.

You're literally reversing your position here:

> Are you suggesting that some topics can only be discussed if

We were not talking about all discussions, we were talking about how some topics don't play nice with this method of having a discussion.

> This is easy to discover and correct for if both parties approach the discussion without being disingenuous.

You mean like not pretending you were talking about the opposite thing you were actually talking about one comment ago?


I'm not reversing my position at all. I am arguing that some topics can be discussed with context-free universally true premises and some cannot. Nothing I have said is inconsistent with that.

> This is not a prerequisite of all discussions.

is equivalent to:

Some discussions do not have this as a prerequisite.


if you throw out the concept of objective truth (a staple of postmodern philosophy) then there is no debating at all, because the whole point of debate is to get to the truth at the heart of a matter. With postmodernism all you have is interest groups waging war on each other to pursue their own benefit.


This implies discarding how people feel about subjects, because feelings are inherently subjective.

It also leads you into certain kinds of blindness about gender, because of the search for objective metrics. You end up measuring less relevant things - chromosomes - rather than more relevant things - gender presentation and socialisation - simply because they're easier to measure.


> This implies discarding how people feel about subjects, because feelings are inherently subjective.

If you believe, as I do, that the nature of reality is an objective matter, and people's subjective feelings are part of this objective reality, then the following are true:

- That certain people feel a certain way is an objective matter.

- Why people feel a certain way is also an objective matter.

Both of these things can be either very difficult or impossible to determine (at present at least), but that's a separate issue - it's epistemological not ontological.


that's true, people will always have their own feelings towards subjects and we humans don't have the ability to cleanly separate our rationality from our emotions. However, denying an objective truth just because we find it hard to get to is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We have tools available to us to get to the truth (science, logic, reason, open debate, etc), and to discard these tools leaves us with nothing but subjectivity and tribalism.


So which "objective" truth do you think has been discarded in all of this? Be rigorous.


if you lay out which viewpoints you think are both objective, true and need to be discarded then I'll tell you. At a guess, I think the idea of tabula rasa has proven to be untrue and there are biological roots to some gender differences.


>To me, appeals to "rational discussion" represent an unwillingness to accept that humans are messy, irrational creatures, and that rationality itself is but a tool, not an end-goal (and by extension, a denial of one's own irrationality). We're not modelling our society on Skinner-boxes for a reason.

Whoever told you Skinner-boxes were the end-point of rationality was... deeply wrong, and probably doing such damage to public discussion that they should be reprimanded.


> the claim is that you cannot have context-free universally true premises for every type discussion

Thankyou, this is exactly what I meant.


I'm genuinely curious as to how rational discussion about the contents of the memo is harmful.

If reasonable people are having a rational discussion (difficult on the Internet, I know), surely we can still talk about disagreeable facts and theories without causing harm.


if you have a norm where people don't discuss certain things because it will cause offence to a group then having a discussion about things that will cause offence to that group is massive slight against that group. not only will it offend that group but it also shows that no-one cares about offending that group. i know this is a tautological argument. but i feel we do have a norm of not discussing things that will cause an offence to a group and even if you think this norm is wrong it is very difficult to change because the initial breaks in the norm are going to be resisted very heavily by those who feel they are being unfairly targeted.


Offense and harm are different things.


The problem is that they are being seen as one and the same. Words that people don't like are being seen as causing material injury. That's why professors are giving warnings before class that certain topics may be "triggering" and that students don't have to have their fragile minds assaulted by differing opinions.


By regular definition of "rational discussion", subjects not amendable to it are, frankly, not worth discussing. Because the opposite of the "restricted format" of rational discussion is just talking out of one's ass and using one's emotions as arguments. Which, I guess, may be a fine social activity for some, but is otherwise not very useful for the society as a whole.


> Men seem very unwilling to recognise

Honest question: Are we willing apply micro-aggression theory in a uniform and consistent way, or are presumably privileged groups immune to them?


Oh, that was entirely deliberate. But are your feelings of upset about that generalisation rational, in the sense used by the memo author?


> Men seem very unwilling to recognise that the memo and the discussion itself is harmful.

...you realize where this goes, right?

Like -- suppose you're right; and suppose you're given the power to suppress all such harmful discussions. You apply it. No more such discussion. Great.

Now suppose this occurs but in fact you're wrong. We must then ask: How would you find out that you're wrong?

Well, in such a case, you probably wouldn't. I guess you might find out when the chickens, whatever they are, finally came home to roost. But ideally one wants to find out before then. Better hope the chickens are merely bad rather than catastrophic, seeing as you've been doing absolutely no planning for this case. And hopefully they come sooner rather than later.

(And that's assuming you're a reasonable person who would actually admit error at that point; see below.)

I mean, really... illiberalism, it always goes the same way. You think it's discussion that's harmful? Have you seen the alternative? Because, I mean, examples abound, and how it goes is pretty clear. You're talking about going down a path dominated by humanity's worst tribal instincts. I should hope that's not what you want -- but that's where that path leads. By the time the far-off disaster occurs, do you think it'll be people like you, who are capable of thinking clearly but just think certain discussions should be suppressed, who are going to be running the show? No, it'll the people who are the least reflective, the most tribal, the most doublethinky.

Liberalism, free speech, when working properly, is supposed to work as a negative feedback loop. If you're wrong, you find out. Someone contradicts you, supplies arguments, and then you can consider them and see whether they might be right. As a lot of people have noted, it... doesn't exactly always succeed at this. But suppression of speech... hoo boy, that fails so much harder. That's how you get positive feedback loops. As the professed beliefs of the group get further and further from reality, simultaneously the requirements that you agree, the punishments for disagreeing, get stricter and harsher. You sure as hell don't find the truth that way.

Truth, now... I notice that's something you didn't even mention at all. Because some of the points made in that memo, are, as best as people can currently tell, true. You haven't made any claims about to truth or falsity, only about harmfulness. But do you think the harmfulness of the claims in that memo exceed the harmfulness of shitty civilizational epistemic practices? (Nature can't be fooled, as they say!)

Like, OK, bad epistemic practices might not seem that bad, might seem like a worthwhile tradeoff, if you imagine suppression of specific facts or claims or discussions as an isolated thing. Maybe we don't need to know literally everything. But that's not how it goes. Free speech, liberalism, these are ideas that are unnatural to people, they had to be learned, and they are constantly seeking ways to slip them off or and go back to full-on tribalism (or pervert them in service of it). You may want suppression of particular claims... you will get the bad old days. The positive-feedback loop of doom.

Claims don't exist in isolation, after all; claims have relations between them. You can't just suppress one claim, because people will rederive it from other claims. And if the claim you suppress happens to be correct? Then people will definitely rederive it. So either surrounding claims have to go, or the process of inference itself has to go. Likely both. In fact definitely the latter; you can peel off surrounding claims all you want but eventually you'll have to attack inference itself. And hey, it happens already that people are constantly eager to do that anyway! They only need a little push... and then oops, there's your positive feedback loop. Once you encourage people to use bad methods, they'll use them to reach all sorts of bad conclusions... I expect many of them will surprise you!

(And what is the scope of this suppression? Shall the hidden truth be kept alive in the academy, say, with a strict cordon, so that the facts may be known by the chosen few but never applied outside where it might be necessary? Shall those who wish to learn a subject have to first learn only the public parts, and then apply to join, to learn the hidden secrets? Or shall it extend even to them? Is the pursuit of truth itself something that must simply be forbidden?)

It's a dark road you're suggesting here -- and not a new one; an old one, an ancient one, one whose failures we know very well. I'll take whatever harmfulness the truth might pose over that any day. I don't think it can really hold a candle to that.


Excellent comment.

> suppose you're right; and suppose you're given the power to suppress all such harmful discussions.

I would suggest an additional thought experiment:

imagine that 200 years ago people had suppressed what they considered harmful discussions.

Why are so many people who are interested in progressive causes so against the things that have and do help progress such causes?


I wish I could upvote this comment multiple times, you've laid out very accurately the common underpinnings between all these anti-free-speech ideologies and what they end up as (hint: it's Nazism/Stalinism).


Well, those are extreme cases. Things don't usually end in mass murder. The less extreme version is still pretty terrible though.


they are the extreme case in that they're the result of walking this line right to the end. Here's hoping that the tide can be turned long before it gets to that - there's already mass brawling between the left and right in places like Berkeley and that's too far as it is.


> bad epistemic practices

The idea that some groups of humans are intrinsically inferior to others is one of these "banned" "facts" that has been excluded from civilised discussion for a reason, and that lies in the history of so-called "scientific racism" that was used to justify genocides in the 20th century.

The idea that "some groups of humans have a statistical average of some attribute that is higher than some other attribute" is an idea that people are basically incapable of not turning into "all X are inferior to Y". The idea that women are statistically less likely to be programmers gets used as justification for itself.

Let alone trying to distinguish between "wrong" (morally) and "wrong" (factually incorrect with relation to the observable universe).

Also, at no point did I mention suppressing the discussion. But you've simply turned your own argument around: you're arguing that saying "this discussion is harmful" is itself a harmful discussion!

And indeed we're also back to the question of whether being fired by your employer actually is a free speech question or not. There's no suggestion of government involvement in this speech, is there? Are you going to say "employees should be protected by the state from fear of being fired for any statements they make in the workplace, no matter how offensive their co-workers find them"?


I agree that trying to make statistical arguments to someone who isn't capable of correctly interpreting the statistics can be harmful.

However, I disagree with your original claim that `Not all subjects are amenable to "rational discussion"`, since this is not independent of with whom you are discussing a subject. I am fairly sure that for any possible subject, there is someone you can rationally discuss it with, without causing any harm.

> you're arguing that saying "this discussion is harmful" is itself a harmful discussion!

I don't interpret Sniffnoy as calling the discussion itself harmful, rather they thought you were the kind of person who'd advocate preventing harmful things; thus they argued that a policy of suppressing "harmful discussion" would be harmful. (As opposed to just discussing such a policy.)

If you are not in favor of suppressing harmful discussion, then the free-speech issue also becomes moot; if it's just you saying "I really don't like this discussion." then that's an opinion you are entitled to, but everyone else is free to ignore it.


> The idea that some groups of humans are intrinsically inferior to others is one of these "banned" "facts" that has been excluded from civilised discussion for a reason

Have you ever heard the quote "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it"?

I think it's much better to be able to discuss bad ideas, and discuss why they are bad, rather than to prevent (or apply strong pressure against) anyone from publicly bringing them up.

If we make it difficult to discuss about certain topics, who decides which ideas can't be talked about? What if a bigoted group comes into power? Won't this norm to hinder certain discussions hand them a powerful weapon for oppression?


OK, this I can work with a bit more! :)

So in your first three paragraphs you are listing out more explicitly what the harms are. OK. I don't disagree with you much here. Further suggestion that we don't actually disagree as much as I thought is what you say next:

> Also, at no point did I mention suppressing the discussion.

Indeed -- strictly speaking, no you did not!

So it looks now like what you intended to convey, when you wrote that discussing such things is harmful, is that discussing such things has downsides. I.e. it is not all-upside. I'm in agreement there! I just think that the downside is so much vastly smaller than the upside.

Whereas I took you as meaning that it is net harmful; and yes, I'll admit I implicitly read in there a call to suppress such things. Given the context, I think that was a reasonable inference for me to make? That is to say, the original question this came up under related to the firing of James Damore. If you didn't intend people to infer that you meant that, I think you should have been more explicit there. Similarly you should have been more explicit that by "harmful" you merely meant "has downsides" rather than "is net harmful". (Note that "has downsides" is a very weak statement -- everything has downsides! If you've been having to argue who won't even acknowledge that discussing such things has downsides, well... sorry you've had to deal with that!)

Anyway, one way or another, while I don't think you were the most clear, we do both seem to agree that the discussion has both upsides and downsides. I'm just arguing (as I've said above) that the upside is much, much bigger than the downside.

> But you've simply turned your own argument around: you're arguing that saying "this discussion is harmful" is itself a harmful discussion!

This is why one needs to distinguish the object level from the meta level. Yes, the rules need to be different between the two. (Although, in a world where everyone understood that discussion is not to be suppressed, I wouldn't have any problem with people merely saying that discussion should be suppressed, so long as they took no action to do so!)

> And indeed we're also back to the question of whether being fired by your employer actually is a free speech question or not. There's no suggestion of government involvement in this speech, is there? Are you going to say "employees should be protected by the state from fear of being fired for any statements they make in the workplace, no matter how offensive their co-workers find them"?

...OK, I hate to say this, but this part reads like you didn't actually read my comment above. The point of free speech here, so far as I'm concerned, is to prevent the awful default human tribal positive feedback loop of posturing and wrongness. Whether the government is involved is irrelevant. What's relevant is, is this going to deter people from contradicting the consensus when they think something's wrong? Is this going to damage the negative feedback loops we need, and strengthen the positive feedback loops that have destroyed so many groups? I'd say yes, this is.

I'm not making any claims as to whether Damore should have been protected by the state! I didn't make any claims about the government at all. And honestly state protection might be helpful to Damore himself but it wouldn't do very much to alleviate the real problems in this situation anyway. It wouldn't really do very much to defuse the deterrent.

And that's what I'm concerned with here -- are the negative feedback loops that we need working? Or are we headed for unseen disaster?


Even by the standards here, this is an excellent post.


You make a good point, but it would have more impact if it wasn't so verbose.


Christ, what a shitstorm.


So: subtle and qualified defence under a pseudonym; stay quiet under your own name?


The ability to doxx is too great today for pseudonyms to work well enough. The necessary opsec is more akin to that used when publishing illegal things the (real) government actively persecutes.


What would you need to do to limit doxxing potential?


Most of all, consistently apply the maximum level opsec right from the beginning. Even if the first hundred posts on your new blog are inoccuous, you can't let them be connected to you when five years from now you find out that you actually want to write about something controversial for once. The hardest part is planning ahead and investing a lot of time and effort before the point where you actually publish the dangerous thing you don't want to be doxxed for.

A blog (or any other publishing mechanism) needs an audience, assuming your goal is to affect public discourse. You can post anonymously or using a short-lived pseudonym on Hacker News and other forums, or on any blogging/publishing platform like Medium, and this is very secure if you never use the same identity before or after. But you're very unlikely to affect many people with your writing that way.

You can't use your regular identity's reputation to drive attention to a one-off post ("Steven Pinker responds to the Google Memo controversy!"). And you can't (reliably) produce one or a few posts so well written and timed that they spread virally and affect many people even though you've never published under that identity before.

So you need to spend a lot of time and effort publishing other things under that identity to acquire a following. You need to be able to consistently write things that attract the kind of people you want to reach and give you the right reputation.

Obviously regular good IT security is needed: don't let your server / publishing account be compromised, vet your hosting service's security, etc. Access it via Tor, setup posts to go up at unpredictable times not tied to your timezone or what you're doing at the time (work/leisure), cultivate a style of writing that's clearly similar across that identity's posts and dissimilar from other things you write. Don't refer to the pseudonym when in any other identity; even if others mention it, don't say you've read it or discuss it. And so on.


Is there some kind of guide about this?

How can you beat a linguistic analysis? If you publish elsewhere and someone guesses to compare your work, are you screwed? Are there any programs that scan writing to determine if the writer's english is Canadian or American or British etc? Or maybe your gender? Could you use that to weed out any regional phrases, or use regional phrases from other places to confuse the text? How do you make sure you don't sound the same in your real life, using similar phrases (For example, if Scott Alexander from Slate Star Codex had another blog that was not anonymous, would it be nessecary to not use expressions like 'Steelman' or refer to effective altruism?

Should you look in the academic literature about language, and try to make it so your style can't be detected by theoretical methods of linguistic analysis that haven't yet been implimented computationally?

How do you deal with private communication? Does it make sense to simply have no possible way of privately emailing you, making all communication public (thus giving you plausible deniability if you click any links phishing for your identity). Should you not even interact with public comments?

What about any information you might giveaway even when you are being a VPN or something (browser info? Some kind of computer associated seriel number? internet cookies?). Is it overkill to simply have one device dedicated to researching/blogging, and restricting yourself from doing normal day to day work on that computer? What about a virtual machine?

Can you buy and pay for a domain anonymously?

Should you make a list of things you are willing to reveal about yourself, and stick to it? For example, A/S/L and then make sure never to reveal other details (former locations, trips with dates, schooling, etc) Should you change details of anecdotes if you share them?

If you trust someone, perhaps a girlfriend, or wife, or really good friend, is it too risky to share with them your identity, even if you agree to never discuss any of it digitally? Assuming they also keep a wall between themselves and that identity (not sharing posts, not telling friends, etc) is that safe? If you do break up, should you create a new blog, and if so, is it worth it to make the writing style clearly different from the old blog? Are there any high profile, clearly psuedonymous people who have remained so for long periods of time?

By making this post, should I now do none of these things?


I'm not any kind of expert on this. I don't have personal experience (obviously I wouldn't admit it if I did, but still); I'm just making educated guesses based on my knowledge technology, people, and the way that previous doxxing campaigns have succeeded. I hope someone else can answer your questions better; I don't want to mislead by sounding more authoritative than I should.

I can't think offhand of someone in the Internet era who became famous (for writing/posting) under a pseudonym, where people had incentive to doxx them. That I can't think of such cases is very weak evidence they don't exist; the majority of cases would occur in non-English media which I don't read anyway.

Scott Alexander is a good example of someone who has succeeded in having large and diverse online following behind a pseudonym. But he's not an example example of what you're looking for. He is very weakly pseudonymous, trivial to doxx. He often refers to his personal life on his blog (more so on his Tumblr), his pseudonym is linked to his real name, and many people know him in the flesh as the author of SSC.

There is good information online on correctly, securely using Tor and VPNs to remain anonymous and on securing (and ideally segregating) the computer you're using for this. This information is often targeted to whistleblowers and to people whose thread model is their governments, but it works equally for anyone.

Interacting with public comments on your own blog should be fine if your connection to it is securely anonymized.

You can register a domain anonymously using bitcoin or prepaid CC without providing your contact info, but then the registrar is the owner of record of the domain and you have to trust them. The biggest danger may be that in the event of a dispute or wishing to transfer to a different registrar, you won't be able to assert control over the domain name without revealing your identity. See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domain_privacy

Making a list of things you're willing to reveal about yourself and sticking to it sounds like a good idea: precommit to clear rules, use checklists.

The linguistic analysis questions depend heavily on both your threat model and on future technological development and I don't dare to try answer them.


thanks!


Linguistic analysis is sometimes called stylometry, and (although I've never tried it) there's a tool to analyze your anon-posts against a corpus of your non-anon language to see how to unique it is and how to anonymize it: https://github.com/psal/anonymouth

My impression is that the average Joe doesn't have enough of a public corpus for this to make a difference. But if you're an academic who blogs both publicly and privately? You might want to check it out.

There have been a several recent cases of political doxing of pseudonymous users. Blogger "Delicious Tacos", alt-right Youtuber "Millenial Woes", /r/the_donald user "HanAssholeSolo", and several members of the alt-right blog "The Right Stuff" have all been exposed at varying levels by various organizations. , As far as I understand, they were all exposed through OPSEC violations in their content, rather than technical violations. In the US, calling out the SWAT team when the target forgets to VPN before logging on to IRC is reserved for black-hats and child pornographers, at least so far.


If you're behind a VPN, any cookies along with your browser fingerprint will still be bright red: https://panopticlick.eff.org/ If what you're doing is really sensitive, do it in a clean VM + Tor. If you're posting, you also need to consider keystroke fingerprinting although with language profiling: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keystroke_dynamics

Most threat models don't require considering these things.


Thanks


Memo authored used his own name, was fired anyway. What is the point? While he may still have legal options, what does opening yourself up to harm prove?

It's only reasonable to insist you use your own name is a rational, fair system; which the internet, and court of popular opinion is not; As such, anonymity is something of a right, and should be a standard on the wild-west environment of the internet.

Plus, since the author provided citations, there is no value in providing his own name - the authority doesn't come from the author. He is inviting a discussion on the topic, and it doesn't really matter who he is to do that - anyone wanting to join the discussion should still be free to do so.


I think it's more that his argument was muddled and I'm not going to bother arguing for or against a paper that isn't saying anything particularly new or interesting.


"Speak out or remain silent" is a false choice. The assumption is that writing competently about complicated hot-button subjects is somehow easy and it's just a matter of courage.

What if it's actually hard, and most people will screw it up? Resharing the best stuff out there often makes more sense than writing something new.


Damore is himself deeply buried in identity politics, as can be determined by his use of the codeword "Marxist intellectuals" in one of his footnotes.


rather than edge around your accusations, it might be better to state plainly what you're accusing him of. You're suggesting he's using "Marxist intellectuals" as a codeword for Jews, and that he's actually a Nazi (or at the very least a conspiracy theorist anti-semite) who is carefully wording his ideological diatribe so it sounds less ominous?

This is usually the accusation that's thrown out by ideologues to silence the middle ground by accusing them of being secret ideologues on the other side. Every communist is just "punching Nazis" and every fascist is just "stopping the red threat" when in actual fact they're both just oppressing moderates. Maybe think about that before you casually accuse people of being Nazis based on subtle inferences.


So why is he referencing Marxism in a discussion on gender? He's not actually referencing Marx, he's just .. labelling a bunch of people as Marxist? And therefore he is "accusing them of being secret ideologues on the other side", is he not?


because of the idea of "cultural Marxism", the lineage between Marxism and modern progressivism via critical theory. The story goes that the Marxist struggle was pivoted from economic to social when the working class in MEDCs didn't revolt in the 1900s.

[edit] also the fact that oftentimes the proposed solution to systemic oppression of women/minorities is ever-increasing power to the state to "even things out", which is a very Marxist concept.


> The story goes that

Ah, the story. But what about the facts? Aren't we supposed to be having a rational discussion here rather than telling stories?


agreed, and I think him talking about "Marxist intellectuals" poisons his own well to an extent because he's bringing an ideological conflict into what seems to have mostly been a reason and science-based argument.

[edit] also as a side note the lineage between Marxism and progressivism is open and provable. The story about how it came about, not so much (as far as I'm aware).


For those unfamiliar with "Cultural Marxism":

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankfurt_School#Cultural_Ma...

"This conspiracy theory version of the term is associated with American religious paleoconservatives such as William S. Lind, Pat Buchanan, and Paul Weyrich, but also holds currency among alt-right/white nationalist groups and the neo-reactionary movement.[65][56][66]

At Weyrich's request William S. Lind wrote a short history of his conception of Cultural Marxism for The Free Congress Foundation; in it Lind identifies the presence of homosexuals on television as proof of Cultural Marxist control over the mass media and claims that Herbert Marcuse considered a coalition of "blacks, students, feminist women and homosexuals" as a vanguard of cultural revolution.[55][64][69] Lind has since published his own depiction of a fictional Cultural Marxist apocalypse.

...

The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported that William S. Lind in 2002 gave a speech to a Holocaust denial conference on the topic of Cultural Marxism. In this speech Lind noted that all the members of The Frankfurt School were "to a man, Jewish", but it is reported that Lind claims not to question whether the Holocaust occurred and suggests he was present in an official capacity for the Free Congress Foundation "to work with a wide variety of groups on an issue-by-issue basis".

...

Adherents of the theory often seem to mean that the existence of things like modern feminism, anti-white racism, and sexualization are dependent on the Frankfurt School, even though these processes and movements predate the 1920s. Although the theory became more widespread in the late 1990s and through the 2000s, the modern iteration of the theory originated in Michael Minnicino's 1992 essay "New Dark Age: Frankfurt School and 'Political Correctness'", published in Fidelio Magazine by the Schiller Institute.[53][87][88] The Schiller Institute, a branch of the LaRouche movement, further promoted the idea in 1994.[89] The Minnicino article charges that the Frankfurt School promoted Modernism in the arts as a form of Cultural pessimism, and shaped the Counterculture of the 1960s (such as the British pop band The Beatles) after the Wandervogel of the Ascona commune.[87] The Larouche movement is otherwise mostly known for believing that the British Empire still exists, is trying to take control of the world (mostly, but not exclusively by economical means), and, among other things, also controls the global drug trade. [90] [91]

...

More recently, the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik included the term in his document "2083: A European Declaration of Independence", which along with The Free Congress Foundation's "Political Correctness: A Short History of an Ideology" was e-mailed to 1,003 addresses approximately 90 minutes before the 2011 bomb blast in Oslo for which Breivik was responsible

...

Philosopher and political science lecturer Jérôme Jamin has stated, "Next to the global dimension of the Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory, there is its innovative and original dimension, which lets its authors avoid racist discourses and pretend to be defenders of democracy".[54] Professor and Oxford Fellow Matthew Feldman has traced the terminology back to the pre-war German concept of Cultural Bolshevism locating it as part of the degeneration theory that aided in Hitler's rise to power.[96] William S. Lind confirms this as his period of interest, claiming that "It [Cultural Marxism] is an effort that goes back not to the 1960s and the hippies and the peace movement, but back to World War I."


if you are trying to imply that I'm a follower of any of these people, I can assure you that I'm not. For what it's worth, my opinion is that there is some lineage between Marxism and progressivism, but that's about it. Nothing to do with holocaust deniers or murderers or white nationalism or any of that nonsense. Not sure what the fact that there are horrendous people who hold this sentiment has to do with the idea itself.


Do you think the author of the memo, like yourself, just randomly mentioned cultural marxism but doesn't actually believe in it?

Was it a specially coded message intended only for the reasonable, middle-ground, rational people who think there's some lineage between Marxism and progressivism, but certainly not in any way intended for the racist, homophobic, anti-semitic, white nationalist, Christian supremacists who invented and popularised the terms modern usage?


"Cultural Marxism" is just the idea that progressivism is a pivot from economic Marxism. That's it. So yeah, I do agree with that because if you look at the academic literature that defines progressivism you'll see that much of it is derived from Marxist thought. So what? Because I can read some academic literature and know the word for this idea I must be a radical anti-semitic white nationalist? A ridiculous idea. You might as well suggest that VW drivers are all Nazis because the company was created by Hitler.

In case I haven't spelled it out for you clearly enough: I'm not anti-Semitic, I don't deny the holocaust, I'm not a fascist or a Nazi, I'm not homophobic or any of that other bullshit. There are plenty of classical liberals like myself who are extremely skeptical of the progressive movement.

[edit] and if you're wondering where I learned the term, it wasn't from the depths of StormFront or some other alt-right cesspool. It's from a video made by Bill Whittle, who is a pretty mainstream conservative. I've equally seen the term used by Joe Rogan and Dave Rubin. None of these people are radical alt-right Nazis.


I didn't say you were. I said that you mentioned "cultural marxism" which you think is a perfectly reasonable thing for someone to mention, as it simply means, according to you, that there is some linkage between modern progressive thought and Marxism.

And I asked if you think the person who wrote the memo was using it in the same way. That seems to be the position the other replies are going for. Just no-one seems to like getting pinned down on this, about what exactly the big bad Marxists are up to with their plans to not discriminate against gay people. Apparently we just mention that Marxists think gay people were oppressed in a footnote to our very sciency memo on what's wrong with diversity and we mean nothing by that at all.

Or he could be intendeding it to be taken in the sense that it is commonly used, in which the jews are held responisble for all the "problems" of modern society, such as environmentalism, gay-rights, civil rights, athiesm and so on.


OK, well I'm glad you're just inquiring genuinely. It's hard not to get defensive when you trot out some pretty horrible characters.

I'm in strong agreement that discrimination against gays, minorities and women is bad. I think most reasonable people are. My issue with the progressive movement is how it doesn't seem to want to stop in the middle by just stopping racism, but instead wants to flip it over by making discrimination in the opposite direction the social norm. For example, diversity quotas explicitly stating that e.g. the engineering department's demographics must closely align with the general population's demographics. It refuses to account for different groups' inherent different tastes and interests by pushing forward the idea of tabula rasa (the human being is a blank slate and all differentiation is socially learned) which doesn't seem to be a foregone conclusion by any stretch of the imagination.

I'm not sure how the idea of a link between Marxism and progressivism has anything to do with Jews aside from that fact that there are a lot of Jewish intellectuals. If cultural marxism is some kind of anti-semitic dogwhistle now, that's a new one on me.


Here's Bill Whittle's version of Cultural Marxism:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3n8wQceQq_Y

Bill Whittle seems like an asshole by the way. But a slick asshole so he stays within the bounds of what's acceptable to say, though even that has some real craziness in it.

Apparently you're not allowed to tell homosexuals that Iran mistreats homosexuals. "Marxist Critical theory" stops him from saying that somehow. I'm not sure why you want to say that to homosexuals, or get annoyed that they don't listen. Presumably the real message is "don't complain, as it's worse elsewhere?" Maybe casually bringing up people exactly like them being killed for being exactly like them is to make them feel welcomed and cherished. He doesn't exactly spell it out, because, as I say he's kinda slick even though he says lots of crazy stuff.

Also, black people in 1920s America, didn't realise there was a problem until the Marxists told them they were getting a bad deal.

I guess this stuff explains why over 50% of Republican's think Higher Education is bad for America. Direct quote: "You are paying people to teach your kids to hate you".

But since "mainstream" Republicanism include Trump and Birtherism (which is totally not racist at all, just asking questions as you would for any President), Climate Change denial etc. I guess you're not wrong to call him mainstream.


I can imagine you find Bill Whittle to be an asshole, because it seems you are pretty far away from me on the ideological spectrum. That's fair, you have every right to think so, but I find him to be reasonably interesting.

Not sure what you're saying with regard to Iran and their mistreatment of homosexuals?

Do you genuinely think that Marxists are the primary reason for black people realising that getting treated like dirt is a pretty bad deal? That strikes me as a rather low opinion of African Americans.

I wouldn't know much about Republicans and their opinion of higher education. If they're skeptical of Marxism though, I at least share that sentiment with them. But then I dislike any ideology that has killed millions of people.

[edit] Birtherism is a weird phenomenon and as a Brit I'm not close enough to it to know whether it's based in racism or just bad info. I hear the same questions were raised about Ted Cruz and whether as a born Canadian he would be allowed to be president.


"Do you genuinely think that Marxists are the primary reason for black people realising that getting treated like dirt is a pretty bad deal? That strikes me as a rather low opinion of African Americans."

That's Bill Whittle's claim, from the video I just watched. Take it up with him.

He says there were no African-Americans, no Italian-Americans etc. in the 1920s, just "Americans", but the Marxists didn't like that. So they told the African-American's that the white people had stolen everything from them, and made them angry (because they "didn't know any better").

Are you seeing how, even in this watered down form, where he leaves out explicit mention of "the jews", how this is a conspiracy theory? Divorced from any kind of facts?

Personally, I wouldn't go around dropping the phrase "Cultural Marxism" casually and I would be very, very skeptical of anyone who does.


that's not quite the same as saying "black people didn't know they were being mistreated until the Marxists told them they were" though is it? It's pretty clear that black people were badly treated at that time though, so I'll have to re-watch the video later to see if that's what he's actually saying or your interpretation. The idea about progressives trying to divide people up into smaller and smaller groups of oppressor vs oppressed is one I agree with though.

> Are you seeing how, even in this watered down form, where he leaves out explicit mention of "the jews", how this is a conspiracy theory? Divorced from any kind of facts?

Firstly I don't think it has much to do with Jews at all, it's more of a philosophical position. Secondly, it's not like I just accept everything Bill says in the video - there are parts I agree with and parts I disagree with. I'm not even a conservative. There are parts of what he says that are clearly backed up by facts about the academic history of progressivism.

I don't tend to drop the phrase casually but I was trying to establish the link for the previous user who was questioning what the memo had to do with Marxists.


> It's hard not to get defensive when...

I thought classical liberals were incapable of emotional involvement in a rational discussion.


I've seen what happens to people who are falsely tagged with certain labels. Id like to discuss politics calmly but when the big words get trotted out I feel the need to defend myself.



What about it? It's not mentioned by the original memo in that footnote about Marxism.


> You're suggesting he's using "Marxist intellectuals" as a codeword for Jews, and that he's actually a Nazi (or at the very least a conspiracy theorist anti-semite)

Do you genuinely believe that the only anti-Semites in the world are Nazis or conspiracy theorists?


of course not, but they're prominent examples, especially when it comes to the "identity politics" that the GP references.


I disagree. He seemed to be trying to avoid identity politics as much as humanly possible, without mincing words. And I'm not sure which identity you think he is supporting.


The male biologically suited to being in tech, obviously.


I think using "deeply buried in identity politics" is overstating facts. And I'm sure you can find many people in academia and otherwise who will clearly identify as Marxists and who advance the points of view that he was against.

If being against a certain current of thought makes you "deeply buried in identity politics", then count me in.


I've now seen several defences of this, and it confuses me.

The whole "Marxist Intellectuals are destroying our society from the inside by promoting the gay lifestyle" thing only makes sense in terms of being a dog-whistle for people who don't like jews or gays or liberals generally.

It doesn't make any sense to me if I take it literally. How is Peter Thiel or Tim Cook being able to be open about their sexuality bad for capitalism? Why is it basically large corporations that are holding the line against anti-LGBT legislation in the united states. Has the devious Marxist plan backfired totally?

Can you outline for me exactly what these "Marxist intellectuals" are up to in terms of supporting gay rights, and how it differs from say the Log-cabin Republicans?


Your comment is dishonest. That isn't a quote from the memo. It is:

[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.”

I can find some meaning in his footnote which isn't anything like a dog-whistle. He is saying that the group of people fighting for a economically left system changed tactics. Instead of arguing about class, they are coopting gender and race to try to change society. I'm not sure I buy it, but it's reasonable to suggest.


"[...] 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."

This is a dubious claim to say the least. There was little to no pro gay rights or gender equality activism in the traditionally very conservative little corner of the Earth where I live (ex communist, eastern European country). However, coinciding with the recent rise of the alt-right, we've had a sudden surge of anti-gay rhetoric packaged along with strong anti-establishment speech - this seems conspicuously similar to the ultra-conservative speech (both Russian and American) attacking liberals. To the point where the governing, majority, LEFT party initiated a referendum for changing the constitution to define the "Family" as the result of the marriage between a man and a woman. Interestingly, the referendum is supported by most (I think all) political parties and a vast majority of people. The "Marxist warfare against the white, straight, cis-gendered patriarchy" doesn't and didn't exist here, yet we have the same alt-right crap being used by the governing party to "feed" the masses, distract from their image of a deeply corrupt party and thus grab more power. Similar things are probably going on in other places, the "Marxist threat" is mostly a boogie man used for a plain old power grab.


You admit the mainstream contemporary left is not advocating for Marxist class warfare. So why do you call them Marxists?

The talk of "Marxist intellectuals transitioning into gender and race politics" is bizarre because any such shift would have happened around 40 years ago. Those individuals are mostly dead or retired. What do they have to do with working conditions at Google?


I'm still not clear what they're actually supposed to be doing that is bad. Do you not know either?

edit: I just realised you thought I was providing a direct quote, I was just paraphrasing, but I think it accurately captures the spirit of this footnote. I'm happy for someone to provide clarification on how this isn't a reference to the widespread conspiracy theory.


You seem to be reading more into it than is there. It isn't the point that left ideology is necessarily bad, but that the fighters for it are shifting tactics because Marxism wasn't working.

Your paraphrasing is totally off (IMHO) because the footnote is neutral about the desirability of the gay lifestyle.


I think it's meant to evoke Marxism in terms of being dogmatic and not tolerating dissent, rather than actually anti-capitalism? Either way it's an extremely poor choice of term.


To go back to the post under discussion here, how does your comment interact with Aaronson's Amendment to his Law? His Law is he will work to discover & share the truth, no matter what, while his Amendment is that he'll go to lengths to avoid hurting people.

I really am not sure myself.


Let's say this is about the Google memo.

Let's just say this - whatever one thinks about Google's snap decision to fire that guy, he ain't no Kolmogorov. Or even a "little Kolmogorov". And as to the suggestion that there might be some thematic overlap between his "struggle for the truth" and the struggles against Stalin or the Nazis... let's please not go there.

No one stopped and offered a third option: actually discussing his argument, acknowledging where he was right, and discussing what he got wrong.

Probably because it wasn't cogently presented, and has some quite glaring gaps in the basic logic of what it does present. And in its tone, was more than a bit inflammatory.


Having read the memo, I disagree. I think the censorious response was warranted, and I think there was little subtlety in his arguments or worth in debating them per se. Obviously, these issues are worth discussing, but why on this one disgruntled software engineer's terms?

There is an equal and opposite danger to the one you're describing, which is that one cranks musings get vested with undue dignity just because the mainstream media does condemn him.


Counterpoint: even if you want to defend a "middle" position, that doesn't mean every argument roughly in that area is worthy defending. I didn't read the memo, so I have no opinion its merits on their own, but considering the immediate response it had, I'd argue it's not worth defending, because it clearly wasn't written in a way that could ever have a hope of convincing anyone not already on the fence.


>but considering the immediate response it had, I'd argue it's not worth defending

That is only a valid stance assuming immediate responses are rational. When anything gets anywhere near a topic like this, the immediate responses that are shouted out will almost never be rational.


This is well supported by research [1].

System 1 is based on quick, emotionally based assessments. It's where your flight-or-flight response lies. Only once System 1 has sufficiently engaged, can System 2 take over and slowly chew on it.

Apparently, the best way to change someone's mind is if you engage them in a way that doesn't (apparently) activate their threat system.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dual_process_theory#System_1


> Apparently, the best way to change someone's mind is if you engage them in a way that doesn't (apparently) activate their threat system.

This is one of the best takeaways from this whole sorry saga.


I disagree; a text that agreed with the overall company position on the topic would not get shouted at. I may be wrong, but I think one could take that and push a bit in any direction without arousing intellectual antibodies. I personally know people who got quite a few "dangerous" ideas past the censors of a fascist dictatorship, where the stakes were incomparably higher than writing a memo at Google. It's a skill, though.


It's a skill, that's right. The article actually alluded to it by mentioning Kolmogorov's approach to criticising Lysenkoism.

The author of the Google memo obviously didn't have that skill. He approached it in exactly the wrong way - by writing a solid, coherent piece, full of links to actual research, which politely but assertively argued that current Google policies around diversity are wrong and harmful. That's direct disobedience, and direct disobedience gets you a hammer.


You've clearly missed the point. The people doing brain dead shouting on each side will never be convinced anyway, so it is ridiculous to criticize the memo for not being able to convince them.


The goal isn't to convince the shouters, it's to convince those who might follow the shouters. Moderate positions must have their own advocates, because people aren't sufficiently informed on all issues to tell the difference between extremists and moderates.


My point is that you could write something that can push in a certain direction without alerting the shouters. It generally requires pushing only very gently, but it's not impossible if you're skilled.


Slightly off-topic, but what seemed so extremely surprising to me is that googlers who are supposed to be extremely smart were the shouters here. Blatant mis-representations were memed, demonstrating lack of both reading comprehension and basic statistics, not to mention biology. Where are the supposedly smartest people of the planet!


It always makes me sad to see people that think employees of any corporation are "the smartest people on the planet." It shows how effective PR can be.

Of course google employees are just the same as everyone else in the Valley. Which means: generally smart, and also including the same political and psychological quirks - some good, some bad- as everyone else. No better and no worse than other people in the area.


> Where are the supposedly smartest people of the planet!

Who thinks that corporate drones working for an evil megacorp are the smartest people?


Then please go read it. I personally was surprised at how careful and level-headed it was. But due to space constraints his message is often dumbed down by the media to "google employee has said that due to biological differences women can't become decent engineers" which then gets the response it gets.


I read it on the advice of your comment. It is neither careful nor level headed.

The whole thing is a motte-bailey between differences in statistical group averages and individual hiring decisions.

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Motte_and_bailey

If there's such a large overlap between populations, as he claims in the first couple pages, why bother enumerating those differences in such extreme detail?


> If there's such a large overlap between populations, as he claims in the first couple pages, why bother enumerating those differences in such extreme detail?

My major problem with the presentation (as opposed to the content) of the ideas in the memo is actually that he doesn't give the effect sizes when he hypothesizes alternative explanations. They may be given in the linked references, but so far I have not bothered hunting them down; and I have no idea whether it's worth my time before I have checked them all.


Well at least now after you have read it you can form your own opinion.

Small initial differences are capable of causing great divergences down the line so discussing them is not pointless.


"I don't know what the theory of evolution says, but considering the response it gets, I'd say it's not worth defending"


No, I'm saying that a particular text presenting the theory of evolution may not be worthy defending. There's a distinction between the idea and a particular representation of it.


Not a very big distinction. In some circles any defense of evolution would be treated similarly, no matter how reasonable. The beef is fundamentally with what was said, not how it was said.

What tipped me off was that almost nobody who criticised the memo was doing so by quoting from it. If the memo was truly as terrible as was suggested then surely quoting from it would be the best way to prove that. Then I read that an internal google poll showed that half agreed with the memo. So I decided to read the memo and found it civil and not inflammatory. Why not read the memo yourself?


I don't know what Darwin's Descent of Man says, but considering the immediate reaction, I'd say it's not worth defending.


It probably wasn't. Better to write and defending texts that can actually change the public position until the Descent of Man becomes not quite as unpalatable, and therefore eventually worth defending.

I'm prefer effectiveness over martyrdom.


How do you judge whether Descent of Man is a text that can change the public position, or too radical and not worth defending? If you only defend things that don't get a negative reaction, and anything contrary to the current dogma gets a negative reaction, you'll likely never get anywhere.

Also, the strength of the reaction against a non-conformist text is not really strongly correlated with the degree to which it's non-conformist. Dogmatics police small deviations precisely because they don't want an incremental strategy to work.


I'm sorry, I know that I'm reading a dead discussion. But your comment shows that you have no idea what impact The Descent of Man had. Both good and bad.

You can argue for or against it on many grounds, ranging from Darwin's sexism to the importance of treating humans as just another animal to its misuse by the eugenics movement culminating in the Nazi excesses.

But arguing against it because it did not impact the public position shows an ignorance of history.


The problem with the line of argument you've been making is that it involves judging the argument's worthiness of defending solely on the response to it. People are often so ideologically driven that there's no means -- no better way of putting the points -- to get them to respond reasonably to something they don't like.


It's still making up your mind by proxy, and the "best" part about that is, you don't know how many people whose proxy impression you take into account depend in turn also haven't made up their own mind, and whether they are reaction to the piece or reacting to what they think is expected of them. I don't distinct between one person and one billion people claiming or thinking something, what matters is why they do, what their axioms and conclusions are. If those are second-hand, follow the reference and let GC handle the now useless pointer.

> There's a distinction between the idea and a particular representation of it.

And it's generally a bit silly to get hung up on a bad representation of something and hold that against any points that may be buried in it. E.g. I don't like Trump at all, I don't think a lot of things he said even before the election are forgiveable in the least, and so on. But I can't completely dismiss the resentment and disenfranchisement he rode in on, not all of that is racist sore losers, and to ignore that just because Trump was made to win and Sanders made to lose would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Similarly, whatever there may be worth discussing in all this, why leave it to resentful misogynists or whoever?

There are too many issues already that get carved up into two or more sides all of which holding grains of truth and plenty of BS, where there is little discussion and lots of signalling what side you're on. Like, I'm generally against xenophobia and for immigrants, certainly for those from countries our allies and us are messing up. But on a demonstration, I'm automatically also with people who yell about smashing all borders!!1 and I'm like "hold on, that has to scare a lot of people who are nowhere near the page you're on". I can live with that much better than with things I would see on demonstrations against immigrants, for sure, but I still am not happy, you know?

And I have to kinda walk to eggshells to bring that up, to criticize "my own", and make sure to signal "I'm not a racist, I just think this is a bit too much". Which is kind of childish, really. It's like saying I'm not a heretic, I just noticed this thing when I looked through my telescope. Yeah okay I'll do that to not get killed, fine, but it's still silly. I don't like the tug of masses no matter the direction they pull me in, and even if I get pulled into a good direction by people who have good motives today, what will happen tomorrow? Can I get away from the undertow when it changes direction? I'd rather be away and stay away from it, and swim parallel to it as long as I agree with it.

When it comes to this discussion, my opinion is probably beyond the scope anyway, since I think "boys like things more" just means "boys are easier to fuck up". I don't believe in a spectrum where you're either very rational or very emotional, just because you can't be both in the same instant doesn't mean you can't have orthogonal capacities for both. So I don't care how to get more women in tech, I care about getting more men to be nurses, I interested in the dysfunctions that make them hide in boys' clubs and behind money, that make them prefer non-threatening women. I think females in the military are a step backwards, progress would be nobody in the military. And so on, I'm kinda keeping out of this because I'm completely off to lala land anyway. But still, there's not even much of an interesting discussion to read.


> And I have to kinda walk to eggshells to bring that up, to criticize "my own", and make sure to signal "I'm not a racist, I just think this is a bit too much".

Does this ever work? Recently all I seem to see is "but you are, though, and twice as much if you try to deny it." The only acceptable position is in the direction of the groupthink position, with equal or greater magnitude.


In person it can work, on the internet with strangers never. But if I can't convince someone, I still have to hold my ground, and I can do that without anyone's cooperation or permission. I don't believe in the burden of convincing anyone, not when it comes to social things rather than new inventions or such. If you're older than 20, you had plenty time, roughly speaking, and some people don't change as much as come up with new excuses. Been there, done that, and I don't follow into rabbit holes anymore, they just slip to the back of the queue of people I support. Unless they're close to my heart, then I have as bitter fights about it as necessary. Each one teach one, and if I can't save the world there are still degrees to my own depravity within it, and over that I have control.

The question whether a group accepts me is much less important than whether I accept the group, from my perspective. And the thing about people who are in groups is insecurity, and the thing about people who don't need groups for identity is that they actually have and are what groups are only faking. So one on one, in person, people eat chalk or pout and avoid at worst, or open up at best -- but in faceless groups or the internet it's kind of bleak, I agree. But when all you have is a swamp and a spoon, using the spoon is still better than just sitting by the swamp, right?


I think 'considering the immediate response' used to be a valuable heuristic, but isn't any more. Too many people have become too polarized.

There are a bunch of folks from the tech industry on Twitter that I have followed for years, including some HN regulars, that are now, IMHO, in the 'too polarized' group. I no longer trust their opinion on various 'political' subjects to be the result of deliberate consideration, like I did for years.

Scott Alexander wrote another one of his great considerations of this sensitive subject [1], but he wisely disabled comments. To quote Scott:

  A lot of people without connections to the tech industry 
  don’t realize how bad it’s gotten. This [he quotes an 
  example before this paragraph] is how bad. It would be 
  pointless trying to do anything about this person in 
  particular. This is the climate.

  [..]

  This is the world we’ve built. Where making people live in 
  fear is a feature, not a bug.
Every suggestion that maybe this Google guy wrote something reasonable was met with derision, including by these people I follow, effectively shouting down anyone who responded in a moderating way. They are implicit in creating this climate, this world.

I bet none of them actually read the memo and know if the things this guy was saying were actually that bad. They were reacting this way because others were reacting this way, assuming someone down the line would be correct that there was a good reason to be angry. Yet I doubt anyone not already polarized knew.

As far as I can see this was a lynching and whether the guy was actually guilty, and how guilty, is irrelevant.

[1] http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/08/07/contra-grant-on-exagger...


> There are a bunch of folks from the tech industry on Twitter that I have followed for years, including some HN regulars, that are now, IMHO, in the 'too polarized' group.

Thank god, I thought it was just me. This place (or at least, popular members of this place) seems to have become more ideological in recent times. I used to be pretty comfortable in knowing that most here were of the classical liberal/enlightenment ilk and would discuss the majority of reasonable ideas with open eyes and ears. Now I see a lot of angry and dismissive reactions that would have been uncharacteristic of this community only a few years ago.


> I think 'considering the immediate response' used to be a valuable heuristic, but isn't any more. Too many people have become too polarized.

It's also the medium. Social media...now that I think about it, actually today's media landscape in general is a self-reinforcing catalyst for this kind of polarization and emotionalization.


> Every suggestion that maybe this Google guy wrote something reasonable was met with derision, including by these people I follow, effectively shouting down anyone who responded in a moderating way.

You could also consider the possibility that they're right to deride the memo. Many studies are easily read incorrectly or have counter studies showing the effects aren't what they thought.

But even if the memo were factually correct, I think a lot of this comes down to miscommunication. The current tech culture may drive women away for some reasons, even possibly benign ones having nothing to do with discrimination. Some, maybe most people like this culture without being biased against women in any way. That's all perfectly reasonable.

Other people think this culture could change so that it's more attractive to women, presumably thinking that we can preserve what's great about the current culture, but simply introduce new perspectives and so on.

That's also entirely reasonable, but obviously can't be true in all cases. Some changes will be inherently incompatible with existing culture. Certainly this will grate on some people who don't see the need for change. Whether the change needs to happen is a separate issue I won't touch.

The memo's arguments that women are inherently disinterested in the current tech culture are then completely moot, because the goal isn't to try and fit women into the existing culture, but to change the culture so that women want to join it. So you can maybe see why people can be so derisive of the memo's arguments: it's a complete straw man from their point of view.

I personally don't even think each side realizes what they're arguing for and how they differ. They're all talking past each other, and the derision just gets in the way, but I suppose that's human nature.


They may be right to deride the memo. They are not right to deride anyone who wonders whether writing something like that, and sending it internally to a mailing list intended for discussions of this subject, is maybe not an offence that deserves the outrage it garnered. Nor what basically amounts to a social death sentence.

Otherwise I'm with you until your last sentence. This is not a kind of human nature that I think we should accept. Especially because, as you say, it just doesn't work.


Certain topics, that otherwise might be interesting to discuss, are surrounded by minefields. One such topic is the distribution of intellectual ability within subgroups of the population. In contrast to the minefields that Kolmogorov deliberately avoided, this minefield was not put in place by a repressive government. Nor was it secretly put in place overnight by a fanatic band of social-justice zealots.

My observation, which I will offer without citation, is that this particular minefield was put in place, mine by mine, over a period of decades, through a process of fairly broad societal consensus.

To those who suggest clearing the minefield, thus permitting this topic to be discussed freely in public, I will invoke the principle of Chesterton's fence [1]: Before you talk of removing the mines, you need to show that you understand why the minefield was created in the first place, and you need to explain why now is the time to remove it.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Chesterton%27s_fence


Besides ideological self-righteousness, Aaronson left out one important component of oppressive regimes, which I think is actually far more important: it takes a relatively large amount of people to topple a regime, while small groups as well as individuals do nothing but expose themselves by rebelling. So no individual with any regard for his own personal safety has any incentive to rebel, and will instead go along with the flow for as long as it's tolerable to him.

But this, on the other hand, would create an odd situation where actually the vast majority of people might actually wish for rebellion, but none of them actually acts out on that wish. Which I also think is actually much more likelier than what he's putting forward. True crusaders are rare, most of people are "just following orders".


I don't think you need something as serious as an oppressive regime to get into this state. It sounds like an instance of the Abilene paradox - https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abilene_paradox



Indeed, it probably doesn't. Thanks for the link, by the way.


> the vast majority of people might actually wish for rebellion, but none of them actually acts out on that wish.

You're talking about Mutual Knowledge[0]. Basically, the Emperor's New Clothes scenario: I know the emperor is naked, but does everyone else know and do I want to risk myself finding out?

This short Stephen Pinker video[1] explains it really well:

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutual_knowledge_(logic)

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-son3EJTrU


Is this situation really odd? I personally believe it is the norm.

The conditions to have a rebellion are two: 1/ Sufficient people around the place dreaming/hoping/yearning for change; 2/ An unusual event that cannot be managed by "just following orders"

As soon as the two are reunited, it's like throwing a lit match in a black powder keg. The larger the keg or the more powerful the match, the more spectacular the resulting rebellion will be.

In the case of the Soviet Union, the match was Chernobyl.


As I said, I also believe it's much more common. I meant "odd" in the sense that it might lead to unintuitive situations if we only consider the preferences of the people involved. For instance, there might be situations where not a single person in the room might be in favor of the status quo, but not a single one of them dares to say it either, all out of fear that one of the others might be.

Of course, it isn't "odd" if we also consider the incentives involved.


This is kinda a feature. If the response was linear authoritarian regimes could calibrate / plan the response.

The reason Ukraine was able to have a successful revolution is because it didn't look too bad until it was and then it flipped like a light switch.


"But this, on the other hand, would create an odd situation where actually the vast majority of people might actually wish for rebellion, but none of them actually acts out on that wish."

AKA, collective action problem. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_action#Collective_a...



What I find myself wanting to fight is not the prevailing views on a topic, it's the willingness to lie and mislead to promote those views. I saw that this past week with the Google memo situation. I also saw a shocking amount of it last year with the US election. Sloppy journalism feeds the people who seem to want to believe the worst in everything, who in turn feed entire social networks. Eventually sufficient people have heard a thing that the network as a whole believes it. Individuals have little influence. I suppose public consciousness (and social media in particular) could be thought of as a big NN.


Some of the worst offences are these new "fact-checkers" which all seem heavily biased towards the left. When so many people are committed to a motivated and shallow version of the truth, it's hard to find the people who care ONLY about the truth.


facts are left biased, at the moment. Even though 'the left' is clearly imperfect.


Links to support this claim?



Jesus, who writes this kind of crap?


Such a powerful argument you make.


I don't know anything about Kolmogorov, so I can't evaluate the assumption that he obviously saw through the lies and was horrified by the brutality - but I will note that a great number of prominent intellectuals, who were in absolutely no private danger from the soviet regime whatever they'd believe and say, and who definitely had access to information about the brutality, who still chose to support and defend the regime.

Without evidence to the contrary, it's plausible that Kolmogorov simply supported his government and found the brutality to be acceptable collateral damage.

If we've learned anything from the 20th century, one thing should be the lesson that even very smart people can be found supporting extreme brutality in support of an ideology.


I wondered the same thing, there is an excellent book on this topic called "The reckless mind" that might interest you if you didn't already read it. I portrays great thinkers who got swayed by totalitarian systems and asks why.


Thanks for the tip, it looks really interesting.


I'm going to preface this by saying that I'm not remotely comparing the two situations, but a whole lot of people in the us stood by and watched us launch a pointless war of aggression based on lies that we're still seeing the bloody consequences of today.


This is not about being wrong or not resisting -- everybody can be wrong. The contemporary equivalent would be the Neo-Con intellectual who still today defends the invasion, who goes to Baghdad and sends back rosy reports of how healthy Capitalist markets are providing plentiful goods and well-paying jobs to all and the swift eradication of poverty in Liberal-Democratic Iraq, and who angrily dismiss all arguments that things are actually pretty crap by blaming the state of things on the existential and entirely justified need to fight Iran-funded insurgencies and the damn communist Kurds stealing the oil in the north.


Related, I was shocked to learn just how popular Soviet ideology was with western intellectuals in early- and mid-XX century, even though there was already plenty of evidence available about how huge a disaster it was.

http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/08/11/book-review-chronicles-...


It's easy to identify a disaster with the safety and comfort of decades of hindsight, but rather less easy to see today's contemporary equivalents.


We're not talking about hindsight. The people who got excited in the 30s, then backed away, are easy to forgive.

We're talking about people supporting soviet communism literally for decades after the evidence for the brutality required to sustain it was incontrovertible.


It's about the hindsight from your and my perspective, today.

Think about it: in another few decades people may (or may not) look back and wonder how intellectuals could support the system we have today despite of all the bad things happening.


A bit of game theory might be useful - https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/c...

Riots and revolutions are difficult to start because of a number of obstacles:

* It is not clear how many sympathizers you have.

* Even if you believe you have the numbers, being the first to act may result in you being made an example of by the authorities.

It's smarter then to rely on more ambiguous signals. Playing stupid is a good way to do this. The problem is, the people who want to "stick it to the man" are generally young people who still process emotions with their amygdala - they can't keep their ego in check and pretend they don't realize they are contradicting the official doctrine.

It's fun to think you can be like Martin Luther, nailing The 95 Theses to the church door. We only hear about Martin Luther because of a quite literal survivor bias. Also, Luther survived because he claimed to not be challenging the Vatican's authority, but simply having a scholarly debate. He was also quite lucky that the secular authorities were lenient (perhaps for political reasons - there were lessor nobles who weren't so keen on the Holy Roman Emperor's authority).


Since I presume you're a techie, it's funny that you overlook the main reason for Luther's success, which was technological—the invention of the mass-printed pamphlet.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda_during_the_Reformat...

I would also urge you to resist the lure of game theory in analyzing human behavior. It's a toy model that gives toy insights.


Mass communication was also a factor, but probably not one that Luther would have grasped until he was already committed. And he wouldn't have printed any pamphlets if the local authorities executed him immediately.

As for game theory being a toy model, every model of human behaviour is a toy model. I'm not sure if game theory is a particularly bad one.


I think the conclusion from that argument, which I'm honest-to-god surprised to see 'idlewords making, is that if not Luther, then it would be someone else a month or a year later, because a) the forces that shaped Luther were present in other places, and b) it's the printing press that made the Reformation stick (there were earlier attempts, which failed).


There is one shining result in mechanism design, a subfield of game theory, called the revelation principle. It says, simply, that if one doesn't like how the game is played, one may design the game that they want folks to play, and offer incentives accordingly, and people will play the game according to the incentives.

While this may sound like academic bullshit, it is the closest thing you'll find to a solid philosophical foundation for why proof-of-work or proof-of-stake systems should be expected to work in practice as well as they do.


Interesting info about the Propaganda

Game theory is more advanced than the prisioner's dillema, but unfortunately that's what's discussed in 99.99% of examples. And yes, it is a toy example.


Hear, hear!


I want to say this as respectfully as I can, but it isn't easy: the quality of discourse on these topics is really low on HN.

At the same time I do think it's really important for them to be discussed.

Time and again, though, I'm disappointed by how reductive and unmeditative these discussions are. I'm also surprised by how angry people seem.

This is a site used by a lot of very smart people, but I think there is an element of people transferring the confidence of their domain expertise from one area into another, without noticing that they've crossed that border.

I think people need to approach these topics with a humility they wouldn't need to bring to say, hashing algorithms or distributed databases.

edit: typo


This week has really lowered my opinion of this industry and its members (and people in general, once again). From the flimsy and arrogant arguments presented on one side, to the inexcusable hysteria and verbal abuse coming from the other.

I've lost trust and respect for developers I followed and had for some reason assumed were level-headed adults.

This is highschool stuff guys. It's embarrassing.

More generally, if we can't trust our most capable minds to not act like children and blood-thirsty mobs, what hope is there for general discource as a society.


I strongly agree with this.

In the past, I've valued HN as source of uncommonly good discussion. I still feel that way about how pure-tech topics are handled here, and I think HN remains better than 90% of other discussion fora for politics. (Twitter, anyone?) But "better than 90% of alternatives" is completely compatible with "reductive, vicious, and uninformed".

A particular frustration of mine: the scattering of dialogue across multiple comment trees over multiple posts. There are snippets of quality discussion, but they're broken across ~8 different posts. There's no particular way to find them when they're not highly voted, or keep the quality high after they become popular.

Meanwhile every single post has multiple instances of "The original essay is clearly inaccurate, so..." "Sources?" (Or conversely: "Is clearly backed by science, so..." "Sources?") I'm not sure either person in the exchange is behaving badly - the first person wants to make a conditional point without litigating the condition, the second person doesn't want to concede something uncited as objective fact. But the result is that every post is full of horrible, discussion derailing fights over whatever sources two random people can throw at each other.

However one feels about a given exchange, it ought to be fairly obvious that replaying the dispute fifty times with varying sources and no acknowledgement of the other instances is a terrible way to make any kind of progress.

I don't know what can be done about it within the HN format, though.


> I don't know what can be done about it within the HN format, though.

It's not the HN format. The nature vs. nurture [1] debate is one of the oldest in psychology. It's a spectrum, and we're not sure about a lot of things, so people discuss it often in the hopes that someone will provide research answering some new part this fundamental question of our lives. It's been going on for centuries.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nature_versus_nurture


HN has the most civil, quality and supported (from both sides) discussion I've seen out there. Sure, there are some emotional, unsubstantial posts, but they get downvoted to the bottom fast. Just because you don't agree with the points made, doesn't make discussion of lower quality. If you want to live in a bubble, get on Facebook etc. and join your echo chamber social circles, there are plenty of those on both (and any in-between) sides.

"At the same time I do think it's really important for them to be discussed."

This directly affects my chances of getting employed in top tech companies, how on earth it's not important for me (and most people here)??


can you be more specific? in what way do you think the HN comments are generally reductive and unmeditative?


In case you missed the thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14952787

Personally, I think quite a lot of the comments in that thread are reasonable, some even insightful and the majority are definitely well-intentioned. I didn't read completely through, because it's just so much and there is a lot of repetition with different people saying the same things replying to different other people. But well worth reading at least a bit if you somehow missed the controversy.


My only complaint is the 'truths everyone knows' but doesn't say. Most people just don't care. there are a few thousand people that think deeply about worldview A, and a handful of others that think deeply about worldview B. Everybody else is worried about milking their cow, or pilgrimage to the holy land, or picking the kids up from soccer practice.

When worldview A is dominant, problems are framed in terms of A. It's literally hard to have those 'hey, that's funny' moments. And when I do, it's easy to dismiss them. I haven't thought as deeply as the worldview A people, i'm probably forgetting some minor detail. Worldview B people are trained scientists, who spend years honing the 'hey that's funny' detector. I can't compete with that.

Maybe i'm weird. I don't think so. I've had my insights about programming problems, but there are so many topics where i'm simply ignorant. There are so many subjects where i'm a fish, i can't see the water.

The author brought up sexual orientation. I am not a human sexuality researcher. I don't care to be one. My information comes from the culture i live in. I was incredibly happy for friends that were able to marry. If i lived a hundred years ago, i strongly doubt i would hold that same view.

I agree with the author, because culture creates defaults. Push culture when you can. Make better defaults. Most people don't change the factory settings. They are lazy. Or busy. Or really just don't care.


This sounds like "epistemic learned helplessness" - in which you realize that, in domains you're not a specialist in, you can't really discriminate between convincing-sounding arguments of different smart people, so you give up trying and default to whatever is the current majority consensus.

See http://squid314.livejournal.com/350090.html.


Although i'm probably guilty of that as well, that's not quite the point i'm trying to make. The first example about _Ages of Chaos_ is a good one. I've never read the book. I've never read the crackpot theories on either side. It's probably a fascinating story. But it's just not relevant to my life. I've never tried to discriminate between those crackpot arguments, so i don't think i've even reached the giving up stage.

Another example might be best player of $sport for $season. Lacking this knowledge has left me out of some conversations. That momentary exclusion hasn't been enough incentive to actually try to form an opinion. I just don't care enough. So i'm stuck with the factory settings. Someone names a player who's name i vaguely recognize, so i smile and nod and wait for the conversation to progress. or go do something else.


That's a consequence, because one can't be a specialist in most things at the same.


I really enjoyed reading the The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn about the state of mind of the population during Stalin leadership. He relates the story of a conference of the party where nobody in the room dared to be the last one to stop applauding in honor of Stalin.

After a while everybody started to realize how stupid the situation was, yet they couldn't stop clapping because they all knew that this would be a death sentence for the first one to do so.


> He relates the story of a conference of the party where nobody in the room dared to be the last one to stop applauding in honor of Stalin.

For those interested of how that might look, here's a clip of people applauding Ceausescu just one month before his fall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jk_EnsIr8lw .


That scene stuck with me too. They keep going for, like, 15 minutes? Until finally some old fellow sits down. And he's taken away by the next day.


Two things:

* for a society that enjoys even minimal levels of freedom of speech, the Kolmogorov option isn't easily distinguishable from opportunism or careerism. * for a society like the U.S. that enjoys minimal levels of freedom of speech, what is an example of an unspeakable truth? Charles Murray's research exists. Brendan Eich is still rich. Richard Stallman has an extremely unpopular opinion about child porn on his website and he still does talks to people who worship the ground he walks on.

Frankly, it seems like the height of narcissism for a tenured professor to defend not speaking out against Trump by appealing to Kolmogorov.

It would be so refreshing to see the author instead appeal to Occam's razor and just call it cowardice.

Edit: grammar


I agree that taking the Kolmogorov option is justifiable in direct proportion to the risk of your situation and the difficulty of causing change. Appealing to it in the US today is vastly less convincing than appealing to it in the USSR of the 50s and 60s.

That said, I'd also note that writing an article like this inherently means not taking the Kolmogorov option. This is a clear case of "do it, don't say it" - Kolmogorov himself would have been risking his life by publishing a piece like this, since it raises an air of "I might have unacceptable views I'm not announcing".

(I'm not sure where the Trump bit comes in here - it seems like Aaronson's one mention of him is in exactly the opposite direction of yours.)


Here are three unspeakable truths for the United States. Bringing them up is a risk: there is almost no chance for calm, composed conversation.

1. The US Federal Government is not held accountable to the Constitution any more.

2. Income inequality is back to 1930's levels. Beside US Federal Government solutions, across-the-aisle solutions are attacked by corporations and large news sources.

3. Belief systems, their movements and organizations, that unite the populace against the US Federal Government are attacked by corporations and large news sources.

I like your optimism. The US has legs. Though we're crippled, we're not out of the race.

I like to engage in quiet, one-on-one conversations and subtly advocate for better solutions. I think Kolmogorov was a master at that.


Individual income inequality has been approximately flat for the last 50 years. The variety of income inequality that has increased is household inequality, but that's mostly driven by social changes as that metric is hugely sensitive to the nature and size of households. ( http://www.aei.org/publication/sorry-krugman-piketty-and-sti... )

Your #3 has always been true but is arguably less so today than in past given the continuing fragmentation and loss of authority of large news sources.

If your #1 is supposed to represent a change from some golden earlier era...which era are you thinking of, exactly?


I'm pretty sure you can find all of those positions in national newspapers today. You can also openly advocate for them at a lot of workplaces without significant backlash.

"People feel strongly and argue with you" is a vastly different thing than the Kolmogorov situation. (Which, again, was "you're punished harshly and no debate happens at all".)


people post this stuff all the time, you should stop crying about persecution.


The author has spoken against Trump vehemently on multiple occasions. I'm pretty sure the unspeakable opinions referred to in this post aren't Trump related.


I think your examples show that the mob is fickle, and that one's audience has a lot to do with how one is received, not that we enjoy very much practical freedom of speech.


Corporatiosn are dictatorships without freedom of speech. In the case of Academics what you say is true. But not really in the case of Google employees.


The difference, of course, between Galileo and Kolmogorov is that people are aware of Galileo. Acquiescing keeps intellectuals comfortable, but that's about all you can say for it.

There's been a few of these articles linked on HN recently, including Paul Graham's original http://www.paulgraham.com/say.html, with a more or less identical thesis (be quiet) that camouflages real message: that the author is signalling support for the heresy, carefully.


Which heresy though? I'm not sure I can link either article to any particular issue.


People are assuming Aaronson is talking about Damore's note about diversity practices at Google.


This quote comes to mind:

“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion... Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them...he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.” ― John Stuart Mill, On Liberty


Similarly,

> I never allow myself to have an opinion on anything that I don't know the other side's argument better than they do.

> -- Charlie Munger


One problem with creating an island of reason in what is apparently a sea of chaos is that the values that are cherished: reason, truth, rationality and merit are quite possibly the very things the regime is trying to suppress - or at least use a fuel for their outrage in order to promote their views and desire to be seen and hear at the expense of everything else.

The problem I see here now is that the regime is much more distributed with no apparent central authority to work against, however quietly. Comparisons have been made with the Soviet Union, the Vatican and the Nazis but they were all based on an ideology. Social outrage, social signaling and self-righteousness are more fundamental characteristics of humans' group behaviour than politics and for that reason it will be much harder to oppose and even harder to change.

A more apt example might be the effort it took/will take to topple slavery - which despite the change won in the Americas still unhappily exists today in other forms. Other fundamental beliefs can be so deeply rooted in culture that they persist for many hundreds of years and change, even it if is superficial, can take a very long time.


I think it's worse. Slavery was ultimately an economic problem. Here we're fighting against "more fundamental characteristics of humans' group behaviour". The particulars of this problem have some economic aspects, true, but also plenty of non-economic ones.


First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I took the Kolmogorov option.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I the Kolmogorov option.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I the Kolmogorov option.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

-With apologies to Martin Niemöller.


One of the things TFA is pointing at is that the alternative might be:

First they came for the Socialists, and I spoke out, and they decided I was a Socialist and took me away too.


That's also correct. In some situations, we can die on our feet or live on our knees. The choice is ours.

I am fortunate that I don't live in a regime that requires me to make this choice.


"As far as I can tell, the answer is simply: because Kolmogorov knew better than to pick fights he couldn’t win."

This is documented in some place and represent Kolmogorov views, or the author is just projecing it's own views and opinions? Because kolmogorov could just have being neutral about the politics in its country (like the majority of people) or perhaps even had some degree of support at the time. This opinion "its obvious that the soviets were E-V-I-L" are opinions coming from the other side of the cold war.


I think in his intrepretation of the Kolmogorov's life, Aaronson might be totally missing the evolution of views of someone born in 1903 in Russia and having lived through what followed. It is not like Kolmogorov was parachuted overnight from some free country into the oppressive regime.


Very similar to pg's "What you can't say" essay - http://www.paulgraham.com/say.html


The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

-- Carl Sagan, "Broca's Brain"


I think what he's saying that if Kolmogorov was cautious enough to keep his unpopular opinions to himself, so can you.


yeah, but he was very clearly casting the whole thing as an "emperor's new clothes" situation with the implication that the unpopular opinions were self-evidently true but unmentionable.


He's not saying that any unpopular opinion is self-evidently true if people oppose it with such zeal. He's saying that there exist self-evidently true opinions that will be treated that way, and if you harbor one of those you should choose the Kolmogorov option. How do you know you're harboring one of those? The evidence will support it.


That there exist unpopular opinions etc.; in other words, mathematical implication, not equivalence.

From this, it doesn't follow that any unpopular opinion is etc.: I think that the existence of {unpopular and {false and/or mentionable}} opinions is also evident.


But the pre-requisite to this advice is that your belief should have a modicum of truth to it.


And do you think anyone hold beliefs they don't consider truthful?


Tell me, truly, is this a view held by many here? That, as the church denounced Galileo's observation that we turn around the sun as heretical, so too our modern PC culture suppresses legitimate inquiry into wether gender is a determinant of programming aptitude? This is a comparison worth drawing?

Galileo was a scientist. He published papers, books, treatises. He devoted his life to the pursuit of the truth, found a big piece of it, and was punished by society for it. He is one of the giants whose shoulders we stand on.

Kolmogorov sounds cut of the same cloth. He built a research center, helped other scientists on the way up, and left a legacy.

James Damore is a junior programmer who wrote a 10 page 'manifesto' accusing his colleagues of having inferior genes. This created a textbook hostile work environment,[1] leading to his firing.

The amount of sympathy I've seen here is dismaying. It is illustrating just how far we have to go until equality is the rule of the day. Please, before you throw in your lot with him, consider how ridiculous the analogy OP made here is. The Google Manifesto is manifestly not A Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.

I will say, some of the heavyweight commenters here do give me hope. tptacek linked this graph[2] on one of the early threads on this. It's a pretty solid rebuttal to any and all concerns that women are innately unsuited to computers rather than that our computer culture has driven them away.

[1]: https://medium.com/@scurphey/googles-response-to-employee-s-...

[2]: http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2014/10/21/357629765/when-...


I'm fascinated by sentences like "He created a textbook hostile work environment." and "Freedom of Speech is not Freedom from Consequences". I see them more and more, repeated verbatim, to justify why someone had to be removed from his social environment, or physically assaulted. Justifying physical violence from ideological reasons by repeating mantras.

I tought I wouldn't see that in my lifetime, that it was a thing of the past. Reading of totalitarian societies I always wondered how it could happen, and now we see it develop right before our eyes. It is fascinating & terrifying.


I couldn't agree more, I think the level of left wing propaganda in the media is pretty terrifying. What reassures me is that most people seem to hold very different opinions than those the liberal media seem to be trying to indoctrinate.

Personally I think you can find racial and sex differences if you look for them. The athletics world championships are on at the moment. What race wins most of the races? Why do we have separate men and women's events? And yet we are told that despite there being obvious physical differences, there are no differences in non-physical aptitude, and furthermore, even to ponder the idea is heretical. I don't get it. Do we really think that if differences were found we are about to start herding one race off to labour camps? Or ban men from going into child care because they don't have the natural aptitude for it?

I always think it's worth questioning prevailing beliefs, at least within my own head.


You can find differences between sexes / races / ethnicity, and I think it would be foolish to argue that there are no differences. I think it would be foolish to argue however environment and other factors are no influence either. Pulling apart which influences what is rather tricky, I think.

One note I can think of, using your running analogy: focusing on the natural abilities at the very top of the echelon (or even just the pinpoint average) may ignore the massive spread of ability among the general population. Men are naturally going to typically be faster runners than women (larger heart sizes and stronger muscle density -- testosterone traits, in essence). However (and you can look at any mass-participation 5K to verify this), this ignores the wide spread. It is safe to say that your top male athlete will almost always outrun your top female athlete. I think it is also safe to say that a woman who extensively trains will almost always be able to outrun any man who simply shows up at a running event with zero training at all. Certainly there are differences in non-physical aptitude between the sexes, too; however, I also can imagine that there's a wide spread of innate ability here, too, with training also as a differential factor.

I don't think pondering the idea should be some sort of heretical thing, no, but especially with this subject, you have to be careful. I think part of the reason there's a large amount of discomfort about this is part historical example (eg eugenics). If the conclusion drifts into "inferiority / superiority" angles, it can be used by powerful people to exploit tribalism to do awful things.


So your points can be summarised as: there are very few innate differences between men and women, and any differences are far less significant than environmental factors, and anyway you are not allowed to discuss them because human beings are so primitive that if we do find differences we risk a holocaust. This reads to me like a fairly standard rebuttal from the left wing/feminist school.

Here's an example of a measure of male strength where virtually no women are stronger than men: https://www.reddit.com/r/dataisbeautiful/comments/4vcxd0/alm...

The idea that all races and sexes have the same potential is not borne out by the facts. Nature is important. It's comforting and fashionable yet intellectually soft minded to blame it all on the patriarchy or imperialism. All the diversity programmes in the world can't change nature. Nothing should be out if bounds for discussion. In the nicest possible way, if I am not trying to harm people or encourage anyone else to do so, who the hell are you or anyone else to tell me what to say or think?


I don't think you read what I wrote, unfortunately.

Yes, on the topic you selected, grip strength, almost all men are going to be stronger than any women.

To go back to running though. You missed for instance where I said "men are naturally going to typically faster runners than men", which also is true. If you look at this large dataset of compiled 5K pace times, (http://www.pace-calculator.com/5k-pace-comparison.php), you will see that men have a very distinct advantage at all levels (usually a minute and a half pace difference on average).

But you cannot say "almost all men are going to run faster than women", due to the wide spread of pace. There are a significant amount of women capable of an 8 minute / mile pace; this pace is faster than the male average 5K pace at any age.

Nature is important; so is environmental factors. By mentioning that environmental factors exist, I am not dismissive of biological differences. I do think particularly on things like personality, intelligence, and other non-physical traits, it is fairly difficult to pick out what causes what. Testosterone / estrogen traits are fairly easy, we can see the results. Debugging the brain on the other hand is a lot harder.

I did not mention patriarchy or imperialism or feminism. I mention eugenics and tribalism because of the sordid history of this sort of thing; it's a serious warning flag to not rush to conclusion. You can say what you want and think what you want, but I personally would not take any person who does not recognize this warning flag very seriously, to be honest.

In theory, nothing should be out of bounds; in practice, this type of conversation easily degrades into tribalism, which yes I believe human beings are very prone to. (I mean, why else bring up feminism / left wing / patriarchy / imperialism? I didn't mention any of this.) That's not to say "don't discuss this", but I'm not going to say anything else if bringing up the fact that environmental factors exist turns me into some sort of left-wing caricature. :)


Please read the first article I linked. It's written by an employment lawyer! "Hostile work environment" is not a mantra, it has a legal definition that our justice system has been workshopping for decades. Please consider that this is actually a complicated area that many smart people have been arguing about and refining for years and years. The famous "fire in a theatre" example shows that there are limits to free speech, maybe this too isn't speech worth defending.


From the link you shared, a hostile environment is "workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive". Pray tell us , which parts of "men and women are biologically different, and this may lead to differences in preferences and abilities, as a bunch of science suggests" are intimidation, ridicule or insult? He also makes it clear that he's talking about population level statistics, not individuals. It's perfectly allowed to say that "men take up more public space", then it should be perfectly allowed to talk about other traits found in women as well.


The famous "fire in a theatre" example was invented to justify censoring the distribution of flyers opposing the draft.


Just so: https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/11/its-tim...

I'll try and avoid "the most famous and pervasive lazy cheat in American dialogue about free speech" in the future. :0

I really think it's worth reading the employment lawyer piece I linked, it's good to get the actual legal perspective on this whole situation.


Is it? Why?

I think it's not a legal issue - clearly Google can fire him without cause. But it's a cultural issue; is it morally acceptable to still work at or with Google, even though they show this behavior?

Personally, this pisses me off enough that I've switched to DuckDuckGo for the moment.


Please read the article I linked by an employment lawyer, it definitely is a legal issue. Choosing to not fire the employee would have opened them up to serious legal liability. Now, you can believe that the law is disastrously unjust and that a manifesto calling your colleagues' abilities into question based on their gender should not qualify as creating a hostile work environment, but I am curious if you would feel the same if the arguments had all been based on race instead of on gender?

The most eye opening piece of advice I've received on these subjects has been to try and listen to and believe as many people from these disadvantaged groups as possible. Women and minorities all have rhyming stories of being discriminated against. Part of the nature of systematic discrimination is that it is mostly invisible to the majority that benefit from it. It has to be, because when we notice it, it feels wrong.

The vast majority of women I've seen speak on the issue of this manifesto have said similar things: that they recognize the type of man who would write it, that they've had to deal with that type of man their whole careers, and that giving credence to his arguments by airing them in a company sanctioned forum is demoralizing, making their jobs more difficult, and making them feel more like outsiders to the company.

I believe in the paradox of tolerance. In order to build a tolerant environment, there are some things that cannot be tolerated.


"...that they recognize the type of man who would write it..." is the most illuminating phrase I've read from the left, and I'm terrified of it.

That I can choose to have a coworker fired over my projection, from his writing, of his internal psychological state is new to me.

The race to be the biggest victim makes sense to me now. That's awesome power.


Again, according to the employment lawyer I linked, he was fired for the contents of his writing, not some projection of his mental state.

What I'm trying to point out is that people on the receiving end of discrimination in our industry have recognized patterns of behavior that mostly pass beneath my (and perhaps, your) radar. But they are patterns that women across the board, in different companies, in different fields, recognize and can name to one another. This is what structural sexism means, these patterns are built into our society, today. And this manifesto matched perfectly with a number of negative patterns, hence the strong negative response.

(also, writing is inherently a projection of internal psychological state so I'm not sure I really understand the problem you are talking about)


Additionally, it was later judged as unconstitutional.


If I understand things correctly the argument by feminists etc is something along the lines of "there are no differences between men and women, and thus any difference in outcome must be due to discrimination".

Firstly, even if there was only this claim and accusation, one might want to defend oneself against it. Especially since this is an almost universally agreed upon "truth" in the western world.

Secondly, motivated by this (perceived) discrimination of women, we as a society have allowed various forms of discrimination of men intended to offset the discrimination of women. This gives an even stronger reason to contest this "truth" if one feels that it is in fact not true.

So what kind of defence is someone who does not agree with the above "truth" allowed? Like how insanely watered down should the defence be in order that one does not "accusing [ones] colleagues of having inferior genes"?


>If I understand things correctly the argument by feminists etc is something along the lines of "there are no differences between men and women, and thus any difference in outcome must be due to discrimination.

Really? Could you give a reference to anyone ever actually making this argument?


I'm not sure I can provide an actual quote on this and was more my understanding of what people are arguing, I could be mistaken, I'm not sure. But it would seem to me that accepting something of that form as true would be necessary in order to believe in many fairly standard feminist/whatever claims.

In particular, the controversy surrounding Damore's "manifesto" seems very hard to understand if most people believe that there are differences between the genders that could affect the "outcome"/gender gap in tech/whatever. If this in fact what everyone thinks, then why are so many people upset that someone wrote a document saying this is the case? The whole thing should to be a no-issue? (I guess some of the points of Aaronson's original blog post might be applicable here. But I'm not sure that really improves the situation...)

Secondly, if everyone agrees that there are differences between the genders that could affect for example the gender gap in tech, I have a very hard time understanding how one can routinely blame more or less any difference between the genders on discrimination or some such.


>seems very hard to understand if most people believe that there are differences between the genders that could affect the "outcome"/gender gap in tech/whatever.

You're changing your original summary of the argument by adding the qualification "that could affect the outcome". The whole question at issue is whether the differences that there are between men and women would be expected to have a significant effect on outcomes in tech.


Professor Nicholas Matte states it in this interview:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kasiov0ytEc

Not a really exotic belief in the core social justice circles.

Though advocates tend to avoid stating it outright, since it's so easy to attack and so ridiculous. So it's generally left implicit. E.g. They'll just say, "X field is only 30% women, we must fight the sexism that causes this", leaving it as an unstated assumption.


Could you provide a quote, rather than linking to a 50 minute video?


You don't.


>James Damore is a junior programmer who wrote a 10 page 'manifesto' accusing his colleagues of having inferior genes.

Did he? I've seen it represented this way but it was my understanding that averages of society were being talked about in the manifesto. So from my understanding it didn't say anything about the women at Google who would presumably be on the far right side of the distribution either way.

Men tend to be more physically violent than women, but that's not saying that a particular group of men is necessarily more or less violent than a particular group of women.


> Did he? I've seen it represented this way but it was my understanding that averages of society were being talked about in the manifesto.

Of course he didn't. It's easy to debunk by actually reading the original memo - I'm pretty sure people summarizing it that way are betting that their readers won't bother to check the source.

Also, it's ironic that the ostensibly pro-diversity critics are literally equating "different" with "inferior" here.


Two real numbers are different: is one necessarily less than the other?

Yes. This is a consequence of the law of trichotomy.


That's only if you reduce the problem to one parameter.

Two points on a plane are different: is one necessarily less than the other?

No. The question itself is ill-formed. You need a metric to transform the points to a form that can fit into the "less than" comparison. A common transformation would be e.g. euclidean distance - under which two different points (e.g. (2, 4) and (4, 2)) can end up being equal.

Real-life problems are multi-dimensional issues with very complex metrics.


See the figure on page four and the subsequent laundry list of individual traits.


What about it? The figure literally says "this is bad and I don't endorse that". And if that's not enough, the paragraph that the figure is used to support says:

"Note, I’m not saying that all men differ from all 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."

If someone says "I explicitly don't claim X", you can't then go and say they're claiming X.


Read your own quote.

> Note, I’m not saying that all men differ from all women in the following ways...

He does argue that the population means for various traits are different. If two means are different, one is lesser than the other.


> and "Y implies X"

That's what you are asserting, not the author. Isn't that a textbook definition of a straw man?


Two traits (distributed according to that figure) form a distribution on a plane.


I actually think Galileo vs. religion is a quite fitting analogy for these kinds of issues today. There is a prevailing ideology that, if you are seen as disagreeing with it, and if you doing so is visible enough, can get you ousted from polite society. This ideology has a set of dogmatic views about the world which may not be challenged, some of which are seen as axioms of morality. Even though a good argument can be made for both sides of the fence based on the observable evidence available, the standard of proof for one side[1] is set insurmountably high, while just-so stories are widely accepted justifications for the other. Instead of looking for hypotheses that best describe the evidence available to us, we add epicycles to the models dictated to us by the orthodox view whenever discrepancies to reality get too obvious.

Damore is not "literally" Galileo, he does not fear for his life or freedom, he did not publish an original work but instead summarized thoughts that have been around elsewhere, so it is not a perfect analogy, of course.

[1] Standard of proof, but also otherwise standard it is held to: The worst possible interpretation of the document is being discussed, after liberal reading between the lines, looking for dog-whistles, and a telephone game of bad faith summaries. Case in point: > 'manifesto' accusing his colleagues of having inferior genes


Fox News is a highly rated TV channel. Right-wing talk radio has tens of millions of listeners. Our national government is currently dominated by people who disagree with this supposed "prevailing ideology."

I am baffled by the idea that liberals dominate discourse and conservatives have to hide in the shadows to avoid persecution. I see it in a lot of comments here, and half of Damore's manifesto revolved around it. Yet not only are conservatives clearly not persecuted in general, they punch well above their weight when it comes to framing discourse.


> half of Damore's manifesto revolved around it

And, Damore is now interviewing with YouTube personalities claiming Google silenced him.

Meanwhile, every day are 4 new articles about his manifesto, which everyone can find fully linked up and formatted. There's nothing left to complain about. He's got the debate he wanted.

I feel like the strategy of denouncing media began with Trump. It's earned him tons of attention, and others have begun doing the same because they think it's true. They think their ideas are being drowned out.

I don't see that. I see tons of online discussions. From time to time, someone asks me to frame my point in a way that is more to their liking, and I'm baffled. That isn't how open debate works.


>There's nothing left to complain about

He just needs to get his job back, get people in his industry not threatening him any more etc... Galileo also got the discussion he wanted, eventually.

>the strategy of denouncing media began with Trump

Wasn't the media accusing Trump of being openly racist and antisemitic etc, with headlines like "If Trump wins, say goodbye to your black friends"[1]? The least I can say is that the media had a part in making this too easy for Trump.

> From time to time, someone asks me to frame my point in a way that is more to their liking

I think what Damore could reasonably be asking for is to not get fired, and not get threatened by higher ups, if he voices an opinion that would have been fine (and probably supported) had it been an equivalent left-wing position.

[1] http://www.salon.com/2016/11/08/if-trump-wins-say-goodbye-to...


None of that negates the fact that these guys have had tons of press coverage. They haven't been censored at all.

I'm not going to get into whether Trump was actually racist or sexist because that's not the point.


I don't live in California, but I hear that if you do, and if you work in tech or academia, it is quite hard to find anyone in your social network who watches Fox News or listens to right-wing radio unironically. As I said, Damore doesn't need to fear for his life, but the people who have the greatest influence on his day-to-day wellbeing are absolutely willing to start a witch hunt as soon as he tries to argue for something that is not the Obvious Truth.

>I am baffled by the idea that liberals dominate discourse and conservatives have to hide in the shadows

So I guess you are quite surprised to find that the only people who work in tech in SV, and who put themselves on the side of Damore, do so pseudonymously, while the ones who argue against him do so in plain sight on twitter etc., with their professional identities?


"Tech in SV" is a tiny portion of the country. People are talking about this as if it's a national problem. Are there places which are insular and unaccepting of non-leftist views? Probably. Is the whole country that way? Absolutely not.


I'm a little troubled by your comment. If you disagree so strongly with what James Damore said I think the best course of action is to refute his arguments, rather than attack him personally/his position in life - junior programmer, big deal? Exactly what difference does that make to the validity of his arguments or otherwise? You actually undermine the cause of refuting his position by not focusing solely on his arguments, but rather attacking him and those that might think his ideas are at least worth hearing, even if only to undermine those ideas.


"James Damore is a junior programmer who wrote a 10 page 'manifesto' accusing his colleagues of having inferior genes."

Read it again, there was not a single word about "inferior". "Different" is the correct word here. Your posts highlights the precise reason we can't have a meaningful discussion on this problem.

Your second link to a graph about women working with computers have another explanation - typist was seen "women's" profession back then and early computers were also seen as somewhat improved typing machine, that's why many early computer operators were women. Few older professors told us that in 70s and 80s it was common in university to employ a typist (typically a woman) to enter programs into computers, I'm pretty sure they were counted as "programmers" in that chart.


Why then did that track so neatly with other scientific majors? There's no reason that you'd need the same number of aspiring typists as aspiring doctors.


I didn't check this data and you didn't provide a link, so can't comment on that, but do you honestly believe that women's position in 70s-80s were better than it is now? I seriously doubt that, just ask your mother or other older women for their opinion.


http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2014/10/21/357629765/when-...

This is the link I put up earlier. It is tracking women's enrollment in majors lined up with different fields. It shows the percentage of women enrolled in majors for programming tracking along with people enrolled in medicine, law, and the hard sciences until the 1980s where suddenly it deviated rather significantly.


> inquiry into wether gender is a determinant of programming aptitude?

This inquiry wasn't made. You have to read the memo.

> accusing his colleagues of having inferior genes.

This wasn't claimed, either. You have to read the memo.

I'm sorry but repeatedly here opponents are deliberately misrepresenting the content of the memo to try to take a moral high ground. We can't discuss this fairly if any opposing viewpoint is going to be framed as claiming women have inferior genes.


It's surprising how different people interpret post-1980 decline of women in computer science differently. As the article suggests, introduction of personal computer is one of the best candidate. My interpretation is that this data supports "interest, not ability" thesis of Damore, and personal computer amplified pre-existing interest difference.


And then you start learning about the different distribution of ownership and access to personal computers among boys and girls, and it looks like the personal computer actually introduced the interest difference. The book Unlocking The Clubhouse has a bunch of discussion on this topic, if you're curious.


You mean that boys like computers more --> they buy more computers (or nag their parents about getting one), or that parents are more prone to give computers to boys --> girls never have the chance to get as interested?

Interestingly, teenage girls seem to have more access to (desktop) computers than boys have nowadays: http://www.pewinternet.org/files/old-media/Files/Reports/201...


Just like teenage girls had more instrument playing experience than boys during an era when blues and jazz were starting to develop. Yet men lead the genre.


The second one.


If we're throwing around theories without evidence, what do you think about the fact that nerd culture, exemplified by movies from the 80s like Revenge of the Nerds, welcomes and glorifies young men who don't know how to talk to women? If women are less interested in computers than men, could it not be because we have created a culture that is unappealing to them?


Ultimately I think it boils down to whether or not you see the memo as dog-whistle misogyny.

HN's guidelines specifically encourage posting anything that "gratifies one's intellectual curiosity." So we can hopefully assume that the

I think anybody who is intellectually curious is interested in whether population-level neurological sexual dimorphism has any significant impact on career outcomes. If you do not read the memo as dog-whistle misogyny, then you will see this reaction as an indication that investigating this fact is forbidden.

Just to quote a few things you said as an example:

"legitimate inquiry into whether gender is a determinant of programming aptitude"

"accusing his colleagues of having inferior genes."

The memo in question never once mentioned engineering aptitude nor ability. It did claim that women were not pursuing software jobs due to a combination of things they found distasteful, some of which were inherent to the job and others of which are cultural.

Again, if it's dog-whistle misogyny, then reading this as: "I think I can get away with talking about differences of preference, so I'll just let people fill in the blanks in terms of differences of ability" makes perfect sense, but I hope you could see how others might not make that inference?


> until equality is the rule of the day

But people aren't clones and we aren't all equal. Hey, I want to be equal to LeBron James. Please, give me the same salary.

You want equality, there's communism for you. See how that panned out.

> women are innately unsuited to computers

Did you read the original paper? Damore never wrote that. He was talking about statistical chance, not generalizing like you are now.


It's not equality of results, it's equality of opportunity.

You can get the same initial chance to prove your ability at basketball as he did. You can even get a slight boost to compensate for things (maybe he was a lot more motivated, or maybe he got some practice in the 'hood). And it'll turn out you have no skills/talent/ability, you're not 2 meters high, and so on.

Now, with sports, it's not a problem if we don't spend more than a few seconds of thought on trying to create equal opportunities, because with competitive sports the point is exactly to not have equal outcomes.

But with broad categories like jobs/career, income, wealth, political/legal/professional representation, we pretty much want to make sure that if one gender is underrepresented then it's not hurting us all on the long run. It might turn out that yeah, women don't really like tech, and those few who do are very welcome, men can behave around them, and those instances of sexism are just the expected rare problems that do happen in every other walks of life. But so far, it seems that it's very much not the case.


> Damore is a junior programmer who wrote a 10 page 'manifesto' accusing his colleagues of having inferior genes.

Can you cite the parts of his memo that made you believe he did that? Or did you read that "between the lines"?


> James Damore is a junior programmer who wrote a 10 page 'manifesto' accusing his colleagues of having inferior genes.

Did we read the same manifesto? Because I don't recall that part at all.

I do recall him saying in several places that despite population-level differences in averages for certain personality traits, it was incorrect to take the average and apply it to individuals within that group due to the large overlap between different groups.

> It's a pretty solid rebuttal to any and all concerns that women are innately unsuited to computers rather than that our computer culture has driven them away.

And this article [0], has a pretty solid rebuttal as to that interpretation of that graph (among other things).

0: http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/08/07/contra-grant-on-exagger...


First of all he never ever said women were inferior. He said they were statistically less likely to be interested in computer science. That's not an objectionable claim at all. It's certainly not a "hostile work environment". Firing people for having political opinions sure is though.

The "manifesto" wasn't the best argument ever written on the subject. But as far as I can tell its basically correct. There are many well documented biological differences between men and women. Not just minor ones, but some of the largest effect sizes I've ever seen in a social science. I think it's absurd to expect exactly equal gender ratios given such enormous differences.

The NPR article is interesting. It was brought up before and there was some debate about how accurate it was. It doesn't make much sense given the gender ratio in other similar areas like engineering is similar and hasn't changed that much.

But even if its correct, the theory they present is basically compatible with the Google memo. That parents are less likely to buy girls computers and so they don't go into comp sci. If that's the case, Googles sexist programs to discriminate against men over women isn't going to change anything. All the statistics show the "problem" isn't in the tech industry and is happening by high school or before.


"Please, before you throw in your lot with him, consider how ridiculous the analogy OP made here is. The Google Manifesto is manifestly not A Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems."

Aaronson doesn't mention Google or Damore.


Indeed not. Aaronson is talking about the general case when there are things you can't say that are indeed true. This is useful, because if you can come to correct conclusions for the general case, these conclusions will be useful in instances of that case.


Scott Aaronson is highly unlikely going to be siding with someone using pseudoscience to push their victim agenda.

It's a great insult to the victims of Church oppression in the middle ages and of Soviet policy to compare their hardships to the "hardships" of men working at Google.


Have some self-awareness, good sir.


Perhaps if you were hoping for comments here not to mention it, now was a bad time to post it.


>inferior genes

Not inferior genes, merely different genes. Is this so controversial?


> Tell me, truly, is this a view held by many here? That, as the church denounced Galileo's observation that we turn around the sun as heretical, so too our modern PC culture suppresses legitimate inquiry into wether gender is a determinant of programming aptitude? This is a comparison worth drawing?

Nah, if anything, the primary comparison was not with Galileo but with Soviet ideology, which is quite apt IMO.

> James Damore is a junior programmer who wrote a 10 page 'manifesto' accusing his colleagues of having inferior genes.

You apparently didn't read the 'manifesto'. He did no such thing. In fact, he only constructed an argument - based on solid research - that current pro-diversity practices in Google are harmful to employees and* company alike.

Also, Kolmogorov and Galileo also started as junior whatevers - you can't evaluate someone at time T by what they turned out to be at time T+many years later.

> Please, before you throw in your lot with him, consider how ridiculous the analogy OP made here is. The Google Manifesto is manifestly not A Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.

It's not. But Scott Aaronson used examples of historical figures important to him and his field, and he did that to make a general point about a "third option" between acting and buying into propaganda. It is only natural for him to use those examples.

> tptacek linked this graph[2] on one of the early threads on this. It's a pretty solid rebuttal to any and all concerns that women are innately unsuited to computers rather than that our computer culture has driven them away.

I think the arguments in this article have pretty solid rebuttals too, or at least alternative explanations ;). Some of the pretty stronger ones show e.g. in part IV of the recent post of Scott Alexander - http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/08/07/contra-grant-on-exagger....

Also, the memo wasn't really making the argument that women are unsuited to computers. The usual argument is that they are less likely to be interested in them, compared to other available options. Which also suggests that the more options you give to everyone, the more gender inequality you're expected to see, as people naturally sort themselves into careers that fit their characters.


I'm surprised no one is mentioning Jordan Peterson and the attacks on him. He is quite successful in defending himself speaking his truths.


The already huge and rising support he's getting on patreon proves that enough people want to rebell. I believe he is doing tremendous work


There's an interesting book about that dynamic where some unknown number of people privately doubt a core public value -- "preference falsification": https://www.amazon.com/Private-Truths-Public-Lies-Falsificat... I read it after the 2016 election, but it's pretty old -- is there newer work anyone can recommend?


> if I don’t understand what is or isn’t hurtful, then I’ll defer to the leading intellectuals in my culture to tell me

This essay was so promising, and then turned out to be a pledge of allegiance to the thought police.


I think you missed the point of that one. He doesn't want to hurt other people, but realizes he won't know all the ways he could do so accidentally.

So, in the interest of not hurting people, if he is unsure whether something will or not, he'll defer to smarter people about what's appropriate behavior.

If you don't care whether what you say hurts others, you need do nothing, need defer to no one any time, ever.


What he's really doing is letting himself get censored by hecklers.


No.

If you don't care about hurting other people, do whatever you want.

If you do care about hurting other people, do your best but recognize the limits of your knowledge--and where your knowledge is insufficient, defer to other, smarter people.

But again, if you don't care about hurting others, do what you want.

You don't have to share his goals in life. You can have your own. It's simple, and it's not censorship.


What if you're deferring to smarter people who want to hurt others though? Quite the conundrum.


Well, if you were a common Hans in 1930 Germany, you might have listened to smarter folks, and they wanted to hurt Jews a lot, take their stuff and beat them for their greed (or whatever).

Are they really smarter? If you think yes, then what can we do, you'll happily join them, and probably won't be swayed by even smarter people's arguments.

If on the other hand those allegedly smarter people advocate against the spread of nationalism by recommending that you maybe don't employ or get employed by nationalists, that might be a bit different, yet maybe totally counterproductive.


Yeah, god forbid a person thinks for themselves instead of referring to some cultural intellectuals for judgement.

What kind of arguments are these? How to be more compliant? What happened to all those enlightenment ideals of being LESS compliant, judging for yourself, etc?

And when did "hurtful" (as in feelings) became some huge consideration in public discourse?


Yeah, but many of us, even if aspiring to be our best, will never reach the importance of a Kolmogorov, or a Terry Tao, etc. Our optimal mix of political iconoclasty and mathematical progress may be much much different.

There's a sense in which way the ideal mathematician (or ultramarathoner, or classical composer...) is like a monk. Many of us are not built like that.


I'm curious about the remark that Kolmogorov was gay. This is the first time I hear of this. As far as I can tell from Wikipedia, this claim first surfaced in an article at The Mathematical Intelligencer from 2001. Are there any accounts from his contemporaries that would confirm this?


> This is where you build up fortresses of truth in places the ideological authorities don’t particularly understand or care about

Isn't this exactly what safe spaces were originally meant to be?


Sure. I don't think anyone here is going to be embarrassed to call it a safe space. But safe spaces protect you from harm from individuals. The idea here is create spaces to protect you from the state.


What's the hinted present-day ideology he dare not challenge?


He previously got caught up in an internet drama. It's hard to summarize, but he made a comment about how being a nerdy straight male was harder than being a woman or gay and how reading feminist books made him suicidal. He got a bit of blowback on that and so probably a reference to that:

http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=2091#comment-326664


To add a bit more context, his comment is highly personal and deals with how he felt ashamed of his sexuality during his childhood and teenage years. His self-loathing was apparently so bad that he asked a doctor to chemically castrate him. His comments need to be read in the context of his life, because unlike the infamous memo they were highly personal, and that makes them hard to summarise fairly.

I really like his blog, even if it's mostly beyond me. It would be a shame if anyone drew a negative conclusion about Scott without first reading what he wrote.


Scott Aaronson is a wonderful human being, and seeing the attacks against him, and how they have changed him, has been very painful.


He didn't say "being a nerdy straight male was harder than being a woman or gay" - he said that when he was a teenager he was so ashamed of his sexuality that he wished he were gay or a woman so that he wouldn't have what he perceived to be shameful sexual desire toward women. He was the rare self-loathing straight man, and people on the internet literally wanted to ruin his career or even kill him for admitting it. Imagine a white person who has so internalized the logic of white privilege that they are utterly ashamed of their race and wish they were black - it doesn't mean that person thinks black people have it easier than whites.


He said "being a nerdy male might not make me “privileged”—that it might even have put me into one of society’s least privileged classes". http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=2091#comment-326664


He said that the thought that it might be true would be completely alien to some people's way of seeing things. Which turned out to be proven true by the utterly unhinged way people reacted. It was like he had suggested that maybe the earth revolved around the sun.


Yes. The thought that hacker news might now be a haven for nazis masquerading as classical liberals defending free speech is probably quite horrifying to some people as well.


I get the sense that you're trolling, rather than engaging in good-faith discussion.


A good faith effort to see if you managed to refrain from reacting as though I had actually stated that as a fact rather than merely mentioning it as a thought. I was curious to see if you actually had such a strange understanding of the phrase that you didn't think he was advancing it as a position, or if you were simply arguing that it was a plausible interpretation of the phrase.


I know what you were doing, that's why I suggested that you were trolling - posting with dishonest motivation.


We react to the harshness before us most. But what we perceive personally is always an anecdote.


A veiled James Damore ('Google Manifesto') analogy perhaps?


He says, 'I welcome discussion about the responses of Galileo, Kolmogorov, and other historical figures to official ideologies that they didn’t believe in; and about the meta-question of how a truth-valuing person ought to behave when living under such ideologies. In the hopes of maintaining a civil discussion, any comments that mention current hot-button ideological disputes will be ruthlessly deleted.' so it doesn't sound that way to me... more likely related to something in the Texas legislature, though he might be sympathetic to someone who's been dogpiled by the modern media.


Nah, it's totally about Damore, he's probably just hoping that using historical analogies will make it harder for him or his commenters to accidentally say something stupid.


What happened in Texas? (I am not American and had no luck on search engines)


Nothing happened in Texas, Aaronson just happens to teach there.


ok thanks


Damore is no Galileo. He wrote about a subject he knows little about, didn't seriously research, and one that he actually doesn't seem too interested in studying at all. He wanted to enjoy the appearance of a "forbidden truth" while not caring to put in the effort of actually acquiring it. Aside from the fact that his opinion isn't popular in his immediate circle (yet far from revolutionary, and indeed very common among the ruling party in his country), he is a far cry from the iconoclast scientists who care deeply about a subject, devote their lives to studying it, know its ins and outs, and research it with fiery intensity.


> He wrote about a subject he knows little about, didn't seriously research, and one that he actually doesn't seem too interested in studying at all

He has a Master's Degree in Systems Biology from Harvard. How do you reconcile that?


Oh, sorry; I've read his manifesto and didn't realize it was about systems biology. My impression was that it was about women in tech. Did he research social structures or even the psychological differences between the sexes?


He did link to and summarise research on the psychological differences between the sexes - but it seems that this was the cause of quite a bit of the blowback because people didn't understand that this is what he was doing e.g. when he was talking about Neuroticism in the technical sense as one of the big 5 personality traits, and many people incorrectly interpreted that as him calling women neurotic.

Also the links he provided that would have given this context were removed from quite a few of the online copies of the manifesto, causing further confusion.


I saw the links. No expert on the actual matter at hand (women participation in tech) would consider them relevant at all to the issue.


> Did he research social structures or even the psychological differences between the sexes?

> No expert on the actual matter at hand (women participation in tech) would consider them relevant at all to the issue.

Your inability to maintain a frame of reference for your objections is disheartening. It's clear you're just entrenched in a win/lose mentality and have no interest in the topic at all.


On the contrary. This is a subject I studied (although indirectly) at university, and that's why I could easily tell that the author of the manifesto is both ignorant and uninterested in the subject, which is why he quotes studies that are irrelevant even if their findings are representative. In other words, that he confuses the question of "natural inclination" with the problem of inclusion of women in tech shows that he has done no research on the subject at all.


> he has done no research on the subject at all.

Except for the citations.

> why I could easily tell that the author of the manifesto is both ignorant and uninterested in the subject

Continuing to attack the credibility of a largely factual statement (the memo in question) is still not compelling. If there was evidence supporting opposing viewpoints, even hypothetically, you might want to lead with that in your interactions. Good luck with whatever you believe.


I am not attacking the cited papers, just their relevance. He might as well have said, "we should not fight global warming because of special relativity". Special relativity may be true, but if you think it relates to global warming, then you have done no research on global warming, as you clearly don't understand the problem. That he thinks that innate differences in interest between the sexes relates to the problem of including women in tech that is trying to be addressed by various "diversity" measures, shows that he doesn't understand what the problem is.


As long as you don't explain why you think it is not relevant, there'll not be much progress.

You could argue for example the default should be to treat the two(representation of women in tech vs psychological gender differences) different and "burden of proof" should be on the side arguing they're same. I think that's not obvious to me(and probably a lot of others).


The simplest way I can think of putting it is as follows: Say there was a chemical plant dumping large amounts of radioactive waste into a stream, and the population nearby is experiencing an increased incidence rate of cancer. People call on the plant to stop polluting, and the owner cites some papers showing that cancer has other causes too. Those studies would be completely irrelevant, and a clear attempt by the plant to find an excuse to not stop polluting.

That the participation rate of women in software is experiencing a sharp decline in recent decades, mostly in the US, (while, say, women participation in physics is on the rise) is an undisputed fact; that women working in software companies report abuse is a similarly undisputed facts. That is the problem we're trying to solve. That there may be contributing immutable biological factors is completely irrelevant. The main difference between this and the chemical plant analogy is that while there is no doubt that there are causes of cancer other than exposure to radioactive waste, the studies the author of the manifesto cites are very much controversial on purely scientific grounds, plus he clearly does not understand their context (e.g. that women in liberal countries prefer to work less etc. is no indication whatsoever of any innate factors).

But the main problem is this: Damore is no expert on the subject. His belief that the studies he cites are relevant is based on a layman's intuition, which is wrong in this case, as in many others. Explaining exactly the problems is much harder than bringing up ridiculous hypothesis by people unfamiliar with the subject like Damore. If you want to know exactly what the issue is (and I doubt Damore does, because he clearly read no research on marginalization of women), you should read actual scholarship on the subject, and not rants by some random guy.


Equality / diversity attitudes such as those espoused by Google. See recent events.


From the references to secret police and gulags I can only assume he's blogging from North Korea or Iran or Turkey or somesuch.


Texas.


[flagged]


The question is where he's blogging from, which is probably Texas since he's a professor at UT Austin. The beauty of his blogpost is that depending on your perspective you can choose to read as pertaining to Texas (probably going to ban most insurance coverage for abortion) or "gender stuff" (Google manifesto fallout)


But in either case, the comparison to the Soviet Union is so ridiculous as to undermine any ability to use it a resonable springboard for discussion.


Very much off-topic: I understand the post and the present discussion are not about Kolmogorov's scientific work, but I could not resist pointing out that in addition to all the great things Scott mentioned, Kolmogorov also made significant contributions to fluid turbulence (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turbulence#Kolmogorov.27s_theo...) and linear filtering (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiener_filter#History), among many, many other things.


When I reached the comment field at the end of page, to my big surprise the name and email have been already filled in. In fact, it seems like data of the person last to comment have been present there. Something along the way have gone quite wrong.


So he's willing to concede space on the scientific landscape in the face of increasingly oppressive 'political correctness'? Don't research something if it may hurt someones feelings! Great.


I think his point is, you can't fight all the battles.


It seems he is. It seems wise to me.


Wise for the individual, not so much for population.


What part of being unwise seems wise?


Quick question.

“Every mathematician believes that he is ahead of the others. The reason none state this belief in public is because they are intelligent people.”

The others here, does it refer to other mathematicians, or other people in general?


Other mathematicians.


I wouldn't be surprised if a sizeable fraction, perhaps even the majority, of mathematicians are in fact ahead of all the others. They just have to be best at their own chosen specialization.

(Also, one may need a little hubris to actually do something. I would never have written my crypto library if I didn't started with the overconfidence required to brave mainstream advice.)


You fool! Don't you know by now that you're not meant to roll your own crypto :-/ (I jest, of course)


Don't worry, I survived the non-jest version as well. :-)

I reckon opposition was not as unanimous as one might expect, though. If this thread¹ is to be believed, there's a rather wide range of opinions.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14917378


I should very much hope so! :)


I always thought at least in the U.S stand up comedians were the ones who did not choose the kolmogorov option.


Looks like his blog's down? Guess I'll try again in the morning

Edit: seems to be working now


The page appears to be down. HN hug of death, probably.


Good read - thanks


I wrote the present comment to 1) teach something about mathematics and probability 2) share enlightenment.

In summary this comment should change your thinking about all subjects, forever.

--------------

   Program of study for this comment:

   1.  Read section 1 (approx. 1 hour.)
   Goal: improve your mathematical reasoning.
   
   2.  30 minute break.
   
   3.  Read section 2 (approx 5 minutes).
   Goal: enlightenment.

1. The most important mathematical video you will ever see in your life.

Firstly, unless you are a practicing mathematician this is the most important mathematical video you will ever see in your life. It is purely about mathematics:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrK7X_XlGB8

Watch it. Suppose that you take an hour and learn this. You have just improved your rational thinking forever.

-

Break. Please now take a 30-minute break. During this time you can reflect and assimilate the knowledge you have learned.

-

2. The most important social insight you will read in any comment.

This section requires you to understand section 1. Next, suppose that you are perfectly rational. If I present you a (fair) coin and ask you to judge whether it is fair, after, say, thirty or forty flips you will conclude that it is fair.

If I give you the same coin but also the knowledge that it was drawn from an infinite bag with 1 fair coin in it -- for example, let's say coins are numbered, I select a real number between 0 and 1, and only the coin with the exact value 0.5 is fair, any other coin is unfair, weighted - then even given hours, days, weeks, or years of flipping, you will come to me with the same conclusion: there is a 0% chance that the coin is fair and 100% chance that the coin is weighted. This includes your running every test for randomness, flipping it millions of times and analyzing the result, anything you want.

So let's look at what happened. You have been moved from being able to quickly decide whether a coin is fair, to being completely unable to accept that the coin is fair. No matter how much evidence you can collect, you can only conclude with 100% certainty that the coin is unfair.

The only thing that changed is the understanding of the population it was drawn from.

Why is this a problem? For the simple reason that the coin labelled 0.5 exists.

If you reflect on the plight of coin 0.5 you forever understand why it is very wrong to talk about the bag from which it was drawn or how.


Appreciate you trying to share some insight. But from the hype, I was expecting some kind of world changing revelation. But basically you're just explaining the basics of bayesian statistics?

A lot of people already know this stuff. It's part of an intro course in probability/stats that you'd take while doing a CS degree, or a course about experiments for other science degrees.


Note: as a throwaway I was unable to complete edits to this comment, therefore please upvote (and endorse) only this version. The first version should remain dead as a dupe.

-----

In the spirit of the article we're discussing, I wrote the present comment to 1) teach something about mathematics and probability 2) share a bit of social enlightenment.

In summary this comment should change your thinking fundamentally. You will need to read it carefully but I promise it is relevant. (Please endorse it and upvote it, if you agree.)

--------------

   Program of study for this comment.

   I suggest you go through this comment as follows.

   1.  Read section 1 (approx. 1 hour.)
   Goal: improve your mathematical reasoning.
   
   2.  30 minute break.
   
   3.  Read section 2 (approx 5 minutes).
   Goal: social insight.

   4.  Generalize the insight just gained.
   Goal: make the example more practical.

   This is an exercise for the reader.
----------

1. One of the most important mathematical videos you will ever see.

Firstly, unless you are a practicing mathematician this is one of the most important mathematical video you will ever see:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrK7X_XlGB8

Watch it. As a result you will improve your rational thinking forever.

-

Break. I suggest you next take a 30-minute break. During this time you can reflect on and assimilate the knowledge you have learned.

-

2. An important social insight.

This section requires you to understand section 1.

Next, suppose that you are perfectly rational. We will introduce an extreme case, and you will have to generalize it yourself, to come up with the social insight I promised.

Base (extreme) case.

If I present you a (fair) coin and ask you to judge whether it is fair, after, say, thirty or forty flips you will conclude that it is likely fair. You can never be sure, of course, but you will have a high confidence.

However, if I give you the same coin but also the knowledge that it was drawn at random from an infinite bag with 1 fair coin in it -- for example, let's say coins are numbered, I select a real number at random between 0 and 1, and only the coin with the exact value 0.5 is fair, any other coin is unfair, weighted - then even given hours, days, weeks, or years of flipping, you will come to me with the same conclusion: there is a 0% chance (you will have 0% confidence) that the coin is fair and 100% chance that the coin is weighted.[0] If I bet you a thousand to one that it is fair, you would put any amount of money that it is weighted: regardless of the amount of testing you did and the results of your tests.

This includes your running every test for randomness, flipping it millions of times and analyzing the result, anything you want.

So let's look at what happened. You have been moved from being able to quickly decide whether a coin is likely fair, to being completely unable to accept that the coin is fair. No matter how much evidence you can collect, you can only conclude with 100% certainty that the coin is unfair.

The only thing that changed is the understanding of the population it was drawn from.

Okay. So why is this a problem? For the simple reason that the coin labelled 0.5 exists.

If you reflect on the plight of coin 0.5 you will understand why it is very wrong to talk about the bag from which it was drawn or how.

Exercise: generalize this result for finite cases.

References:

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almost_surely


The 503 curse.


He may be a wonderful person, but if he genuinely thinks being a straight white guy in the US is harder than being gay, he's not as clever as he thinks he is.


We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14966371 and marked it off-topic.


I'm not sure what about this thread precipitated this comment, but it sounds like you'll be relieved to discover he doesn't think that.


It probably wasn't prompted by this thread, but by Scott's previous quotes about how he was, as a nerdy male, among the least privileged in society.


Possibly when zerogravitas says "It's hard to summarize, but he made a comment about how being a nerdy straight male was harder than being a woman or gay".


You(or GP) seem to be implying that all straight white males are nerdy, or that being nerdy has no effect on the hardship you face in life. Which one is it?


This was such an incredibly self serving post that it's almost funny. Thanks for the bravery Scott, you chose not to argue for what you believe in from your position of immense privilege. A martyr indeed.

In any case, people like Scott and others in this thread sound so incredibly childish when talking about "rational" argument being the antidote to the venom of "political correctness" ruining western society. You know what's ruining western society? Income inequality, racial discrimination, mass consumerism, disregard for environmental destruction, etc. That this is the hill where software engineers choose to fight their battle for western civilization is just depressing


PC is particularly harmful, since it restricts talking about controversial topics. Most of the other topics you picked has PC problems. For instance, income equality between the genders could be fixed if we recognize that there are innate differences between the genders, and actively work to make the workplace more inclusive to styles of working which would favor the other gender. Scott Alexander also argued that the constant proclamation that "tech has a sex problem" sends a message that tech is not for women. Such unhealthy fixation with "women in X" is arguable harming X's diversity plans more than helping. But this is not an opinion I'm allowed to have or discuss with you.

tl;dr: we need to fix communication which would allow us to fix other problems of today.


Do you have any evidence for your assertions?


It isn't the hill that engineers choose to fight their battle though, is it. The fact that this is the first time such a memo has been written vs the numbers of the internal Google poll demonstrate pretty well that there is a lot of silent dissent.

I agree completely that there are bigger issues but we're human, being told that you will be discriminated against in hiring for whatever reason really bites. In our society your job is everything, your entire security and most people's egos.

Africa etc is more important but I understand the magnitude of the personal stakes and sheer sense of injustice moving this up people's agenda.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: