Category Archives: Science And Society

Google’s CEO

A question:

Given that the full text of the memo is public, that it is the subject of a national debate on an important subject, that many educated people disagree with one another about what claims it made, and that clarity can only help Google employees adhere to the company’s rules going forward, would you be willing to highlight the memo using green to indicate the “much” that you identified as “fair to debate” and red to flag the “portions” that you deemed Code-of-Conduct violations?

He can’t do that, because a) he doesn’t know himself and b) maintaining uncertainty is a key element of totalitarian thought control.

[Update a couple minutes later]

The Google Archipelago: A nice round up of links from Ed Driscoll.

[Updatea a while later]

This whole thing is so rife with irony. Google may regret being a California company:

Dan Eaton, an employment lawyer, in San Diego wrote on CNBC: “Federal labour law bars even non-union employers like Google from punishing an employee for communicating with fellow employees about improving working conditions … California law prohibits employers from threatening to fire employees to get them to adopt or refrain from adopting a particular political course of action.”

He also said” “It is unlawful for an employer to discipline an employee for challenging conduct that the employee reasonably believed to be discriminatory, even when a court later determines the conduct was not actually prohibited by the discrimination laws.”

Oh, what a tangled web we weave…

[Monday-morning update]

Cathy Young has an interview with Damore, in which he provides his influencers. I’m probably going to write up something on this myself at some point. There are so many issues to unpack.

[Update early afternoon]

Yes, Pichai should go, but that’s not enough:

When you use Facebook or Google (or Twitter, or Amazon, or Netflix) you’re sharing a lot of data with a company that you have to trust won’t abuse that. It’s much harder to trust a company that has decided to aggressively pursue thoughtcrime. And it doesn’t matter where you are on the political spectrum – Damore describes himself as a centrist. But it only takes one politically incorrect utterance, as so many in academia have learned, to achieve Enemy Of The People status. And then, apparently, you’re fair game.

Can you trust a self-driving car from Google, if some new company policy might reprogram it to avoid events Google doesn’t approve? Can you trust Google to prevent its (apparently many) “social-justice warrior” employees from trawling through your personal data looking for dirt, and then leaking it?

As Robert Tracinski writes, this is the big danger for Google: “The most dangerous part is that they are now beginning to be seen by the public (or revealed, depending on how you look at it) as politicized entities. Politicized entities to whom we are giving enormous amounts of data on our lives, thoughts and interests.”

There should, at a minimum, be Congressional hearings.

Men And Women

An interesting discussion on sex differences, spurred by the Google kerfuffle.

It is very important to the Left to minimize them. This is one of the several areas in which they are not the “party of science.”

[Update a few minutes later]

Here’s sort of the tl;dr:

This seems to me like the clearest proof that women being underrepresented in CS/physics/etc is just about different interests. It’s not that they can’t do the work – all those future math teachers do just as well in their math majors as everyone else. It’s not that stereotypes of what girls can and can’t do are making them afraid to try – whatever stereotypes there are about women and math haven’t dulled future math teachers’ willingness to compete difficult math courses one bit. And it’s not even about colleges being discriminatory and hostile (or at least however discriminatory and hostile they are it doesn’t drive away those future math teachers). It’s just that women are more interested in some jobs, and men are more interested in others. Figure out a way to make math people-oriented, and women flock to it. If there were as many elementary school computer science teachers as there are math teachers, gender balance there would equalize without any other effort.

I’m not familiar with any gender breakdown of legal specialties, but I will bet you that family law, child-related law, and various prosocial helping-communities law are disproportionately female, and patent law, technology law, and law working with scary dangerous criminals are disproportionately male. And so on for most other fields.

This theory gives everyone what they want. It explains the data about women in tech. It explains the time course around women in tech. It explains other jobs like veterinary medicine where women dominate. It explains which medical subspecialties women will be dominant or underrepresented in. It doesn’t claim that women are “worse than men” or “biologically inferior” at anything. It doesn’t say that no woman will ever be interested in things, or no man ever interested in people. It doesn’t say even that women in tech don’t face a lot of extra harassment (any domain with more men than women will see more potential perpetrators concentrating their harassment concentrated on fewer potential victims, which will result in each woman being more harassed).

It just says that sometimes, in a population-based way that doesn’t necessarily apply to any given woman or any given man, women and men will have some different interests. Which should be pretty obvious to anyone who’s spent more than a few minutes with men or women.

Yup. But do read the whole thing, because it also describes just how toxic and (ironically, given the “punch a Nazi” commentary) fascist the environment in the industry has become.

[Update a while later]

The most common error in reporting on the Google memo:

To object to a means of achieving x is not to be anti-x.

The failure to apply that same logic to the author of the memo is straightforwardly frustrating for those who agree with many of the views that the memo expressed. And it should also frustrate those who disagree with the author but care about social justice.

Every prominent instance of journalism that proceeds with less than normal rigor when the subject touches on social justice feeds a growing national impulse to dismiss everything published about these subjects—even important, rigorous, accurate articles. Large swathes of the public now believe the mainstream media is more concerned with stigmatizing wrong-think and being politically correct than being accurate. The political fallout from this shift has been ruinous to lots of social-justice causes—causes that would thrive in an environment in which the public accepted the facts.

Given that many of their goals are actually terrible, I’m glad they continue to screw up like this.

[Update a while later]

The Google memo exposes a libertarian blind spot.

[Update a while more later]

Megan McArdle: As a woman in tech, I realized that these are not my people:

Thinking back to those women I knew in IT, I can’t imagine any of them would have spent a weekend building a fiber-channel network in her basement.

I’m not saying such women don’t exist; I know they do. I’m just saying that if they exist in equal numbers to the men, it’s odd that I met so very many men like that, and not even one woman like that, in a job where all the women around me were obviously pretty comfortable with computers. We can’t blame it on residual sexism that prevented women from ever getting into the field; the number of women working with computers has actually gone down over time. And I find it hard to blame it on current sexism. No one told that guy to go home and build a fiber-channel network in his basement; no one told me I couldn’t. It’s just that I would never in a million years have chosen to waste a weekend that way.

These people don’t realize the degree to which their ideology is blinding them to reality. And they don’t realize the degree to which their behavior harms their own cause:

…you still have to ask whether shamestorming Damore and getting him sacked was really the best way to convince him — or anyone else — that he’s mistaken. Did anyone’s understanding of the complex quandaries of gender diversity advance? If there were guys at Google wondering whether the women around them really deserved their jobs, did anyone wake up the morning after Damore’s firing with the revelation: “Good God, how could I have been so blind?” No, I suspect those guys are now thinking: “You see? Women can’t handle math or logic.”

And as always, the Left is impervious to irony.

[Update just before noon]

Leftists: We worship science, except when we don’t.

[Update a couple minutes later]

Google has done a horrible thing to its employees, especially its snowflakes:

Google’s monoculture has turned these employees into snarling, hate-filled, censorious little thought-police who live under the misapprehension that their seething rage is virtue. It reminds me of what happened in the Soviet Union when neighbor turned in neighbor to ensure the regime believed in their loyalty to the Right Ideas.

And they are incapable of seeing it.

I may follow Roger’s advice to start using Dogpile. But I’ll have to wean myself from Chrome, because it makes it hard to automatically use other search engines.

Eclipses

feel weird.

I wonder if the breaking down in tears is a current phenomenon, or if it’s traditional from when most people didn’t know what was going on, and thought it was the end times?

I disagree with this, though:

…for an eclipse with specific properties (such as total versus partial, long versus short, and tropical versus arctic) to make a repeat appearance in any particular region, one has to wait while eclipses work their way around the world like a set of gears, which requires three Saroses—a length of time equal to fifty-four years and around one month, or, more precisely, thirty-three days. Because this surpasses human life expectancy in that era four thousand years ago, it’s astonishing that the cycle was noticed at all.

Only if you don’t understand that life expectancy is an average, with a high standard deviation. Many, and particularly ancient astronomers, would have likely lived much longer than average.

We were in Denver over the weekend, and went up to Wondervu Saturday might for a meeting of the Sky Watchers club (invited by Leonard and Barbara David, who have a place up there in the mountains above Boulder). One of the lecturers (retired from the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden) gave a talk on NREL’s analysis of probability of not having clouds along the entire path. He had seen the one in Aruba in the ’90s, and he and most of the people there planned to go up to Casper to see it. I’d like to, but I can’t justify time/money right now.

Planetary Protection

There may be some useful changes coming to NASA:

JPL has butted heads with the office over the next big mission, the Mars 2020 rover, which will gather rock samples for later retrieval to Earth. JPL is interesting in having the rover target areas with subsurface brines, an activity that would not be allowed with its planned level of cleanliness. Moreover, the planetary protection office has not yet agreed on the efficacy of the techniques JPL will use to sterilize the tubes in which the rover will cache rock cores. If the issues aren’t resolved, Rummel says, the rover could be headed for a bureaucratic “train wreck”.

The office, which has always been limited by a small budget and staff, continues to gauge a spacecraft’s “bioburden” based on a classic measure—the number of cultivable microbial spores it carries. “Some of the numbers we’ve been operating on date back decades, and it’d be great to revisit them,” says Sarah Johnson, a planetary scientist at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She thinks the office should take advantage of two innovations: chemicals that can separate DNA from dead and living cells, and genomic sequencers that can classify the living ones by type. Scientists could then, for example, assess their individual likelihoods of surviving on Mars.

As a member of the Curiosity team, Johnson would like to see a change in policy that would allow the rover to sidle up to the wet streaks to give them a close look, even if the drill itself—currently on the fritz since December 2016—could not be used. In their op-ed, Fairén and his colleagues go further, saying NASA should slightly lower its sterilization standards so that robots as clean as Curiosity could explore special regions. Fairén says there is growing evidence that the harsh environment on the martian surface—a combination of frigid temperatures, caustic chemicals and deadly cosmic radiation—would kill Earth’s microbes quickly, especially in the limited numbers that ride along with robots. Even if some survive, he adds, future missions could distinguish between earthly and martian microbes by sequencing their genomes.

As the article notes, it’s inevitable that humans are going to go there. If they want to look for non-terrestrial life, they need to start doing it now.