Kelly_Witwicki comments on Why & How to Make Progress on Diversity & Inclusion in EA - Effective Altruism Forum

You are viewing a comment permalink. View the original post to see all comments and the full post content.

Comments (229)

You are viewing a single comment's thread. Show more comments above.

Comment author: Kelly_Witwicki 26 October 2017 11:12:46PM 4 points [-]

The histories of many forms of prejudice are histories biological essentialism and biological determinism. Even if such claims are now made out of a "willingness to explore" alternative hypotheses despite this long history of precisely being an unwillingness to explore the much newer hypothesis of prejudice, they tend to be over-simplistic, as in the memo, and tend to have the effect -- if not also the intention -- of dismissing the other, newer hypothesis of prejudice, which is robustly supported by data that the memo's author fails to include.

That's not to say it's a black and white matter of total biological similarity or total culturally-imposed disparities and prejudice. That's what the author of the memo implies, and I disagree. The evidence that prejudice is a major problem that is holding people back is substantial nonetheless.

Some of his suggestions for ways to reduce the gender gap are worth considering, and charitably he's not exceptionally prejudiced and is able to analyze information that has found its way to him, but is just very poorly informed and has no willingness to explore the alternative explanation of prejudice. At most charitable this still enables that prejudice.

Given the extent of my knowledge, which is just the words in the memo, I can agree he's not an outright asshole, and I should have phrased my side note about this example of zero tolerance with a heavy hand differently. It may even be a poor example, as I would say corrective action should have been taken in his case before he was fired if it wasn't, which I don't know about either way.

Comment author: xccf 26 October 2017 11:46:59PM *  7 points [-]

Thanks for the reply, Kelly, and I'm sorry you're getting downvoted. I really appreciate your willingness to be charitable and admit your mistakes, and I will strive to emulate your example.

That's not to say it's a black and white matter of total biological similarity or total culturally-imposed disparities and prejudice. That's what the author of the memo implies

Hm, that's not how I read it. For example, in the first sentence, he says he doesn't deny that sexism exists. Later, he writes: "Of course, men and women experience bias, tech, and the workplace differently and we should be cognizant of this..." My interpretation is that Google already has a ton of discussion of the impact of sexism, bias, etc. and Damore wanted to fill in the other side of the story, so he didn't bother to repeat stuff that everyone already agrees on. Maybe that was a mistake in retrospect.

Comment author: Kelly_Witwicki 27 October 2017 12:42:58AM *  0 points [-]

I agree that that qualification suggests his view on the contribution of biology to the gender gap is weaker than his otherwise definitive framings suggest. [Edit: Sentence here removed because I'm too tired and my thoughts are not in order, will get sleep before responding to any more comments. Replacement: He's still presenting it as a black-and-white issue if he's only presenting one side.]

Google may have had that conversation on prejudice going, but he is very oversimplistic and offers the essentialist view as so definitive that his solutions are the right ones, that Google is the "biased" party for talking about prejudice, and that it isn't worth even mentioning that evidence demonstrating a bias against women exists (if he even knows or believes that), not to mention that the evidence for the real-world effect of prejudice is far more vast and robust than his evidence for biological causes. And he does all this when the essentialist view has been so dominant and people are only talking so much about prejudice because they're trying to overcome the essentialist thinking that so inhibits people. (Sure, there are differences, but there are even more misconceptions, as well as oversimplistic and deterministic assumptions about what real differences mean.)

[Edit for clarification and additional analysis: In a context of prejudice, presenting stereotypes is a delicate matter even if you think them sufficiently biologically valid and are content to make simplistic inferences about their real-world effects. Doing so without acknowledgement of the prejudices people experience which line up with these stereotypes and which harm them serves to reinforce those stereotypes and prejudices.]

So it's not an appropriate way to contribute to the conversation -- at best it's reacting to perceived overshooting by retreating to a flawed status quo.

Comment author: casebash 27 October 2017 01:53:56AM 12 points [-]

Can I suggest that the Damore issue be parked? Even though it is currently producing a high quality, civil conversation, I worry that talking about such a highly polarised topic is somewhat risky as you never know who might join the thread.