Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, August 08, 2017
 
Facts and judgments

If you are an employee of a medium to big company, chances are that you will take part in various training courses. Not just technical ones which are directly related to your job description, but also behavioral training courses designed to get people to work together better. One of the frequent exercises in such courses is to first teach and then let people practice the difference between facts and judgments. For example an expression of a fact could be "the bottle of orange juice that I had put into the break room fridge is gone"; an expression of a judgment could be "somebody stole the bottle of orange juice that I had put into the break room fridge". The purpose of the training course is to get people to use more expressions of facts, and less judgments, because in the resolution of conflict the statement of fact is usually more helpful. The guy who accidentally and unintentionally dropped your bottle of orange juice in the break room fridge is more likely to come clean and apologize on hearing the fact statement than on hearing the (wrong) judgment statement.

Unfortunately very few people manage to express only facts. In a longer text they might have some facts in, but then put a judgment directly after that and by that link destroy the effectiveness of the fact. And if somebody complains about a longer text, it is easy to pick out just the wrong judgments as selective quotes and make the quote look far meaner than the whole text. The big story in the tech world this week is about the guy who wrote a 10-page memo on gender diversity at Google and got fired for it. The guy has a right-wing point of view, and the people who attacked him have a left-wing point of view. And because we have right-wing media and left-wing media, you get the story told in two very different ways, with very different quotes, depending on the bias of the news outlet. The left-wing media quote the worst expressions of judgment, many of which are obviously offensive. The right-wing media quote the expressions of fact, which can be shown to be true (especially due to the obvious irony of somebody getting fired for writing a memo in which he says that you can get fired for writing your opinion).

Personally I would say that Google was justified in firing the guy, because of the offensive judgments in his memo, e.g. saying that women make less good software engineers. However I do think that if he had edited out all the judgments from his text, there would have remained a memo full of facts that would well be worth discussing, e.g. the fact that the current set of gender policies at Google haven't worked in achieving better gender equality. And that gets us into an area which I consider far more dangerous: Culture wars in which attacking the opponent's judgments has become so commonplace, that attacking the opponent's facts is considered normal. Both sides do that: In other news the White House has received an official report that has the best scientific evidence on the contribution of mankind to global warming, and it is nearly certain that they will dismiss those facts because they don't fit with their ideology. On gender it is a fact that if you were to take an MRI image of the brain of a man and an MRI image of the brain of a woman, a neuroscientist will be able to tell the difference. It is a scientific fact that men and women are different, and think differently. Numerous studies have shown that *on average* certain skills and modes of behavior are more prevalent in one sex than in the other. And yes, even in a hypothetical world free of sexism and only based on merit and free choice, we wouldn't have a 50:50 distribution of genders in every profession. I believe however that in this hypothetical world's Google, men would likely be lowly paid code monkeys, while women would hold the majority of better paid management positions (that is a judgment on my side, not a fact, because hypothetical situations can never be facts). What we need to work on is to improve everybody's judgment of the relative value of different skills and modes of behavior. Trying to deny that differences exist just isn't very helpful. Just like trying to deny global warming isn't very helpful. Facts and science aren't subject to ideology and disputable in a culture war. If you treat even scientific facts as only opinions, you weaken the edifice of human knowledge on which civilization is built.

Comments:
@Tobold

Culture wars in which attacking the opponent's judgments has become so commonplace, that attacking the opponent's facts is considered normal.

Except that most of these culture wars are being supported by highly educated individuals who were hired to solve a very specific problem. In Google's case, they recently hired a female diversity manager, who also has a tendency to use her "very public" blog to put forth her own biased views about diversity. Google has also invested over $256 million on removing/improving bias/diversity within its ranks, and Intel, the previous employer of this very same woman, has spent over $500 million to do the same. With just two companies spending over three quarters of a billion dollars on diversity, with the same people working behind the scenes to accomplish this, how should an ordinary citizen view this?

The big story in the tech world this week is about the guy who wrote a 10-page memo on gender diversity at Google and got fired for it.

And then you say the following:

Personally I would say that Google was justified in firing the guy, because of the offensive judgments in his memo,

You begin your post with the assertion that training is tantamount to "get people to work together better.. So, instead of firing this guy, why wasn't he offered this famous training you speak of, to help bring his views more in line with today's realities? Especially knowing that Google has invested so much money into improving it's own diversity?

And then you resort to this:

On gender it is a fact that if you were to take an MRI image of the brain of a man and an MRI image of the brain of a woman, a neuroscientist will be able to tell the difference.

Really? Where did you get your facts to base this statement on? The pink brain, blue brain study? Recent studies show that only 3% of the population have brains that can identified solely as male or female.

Let's hope you're not in a position of losing your job for doing the same thing the dude from Google did. =)
 
@NoGuff: I found a 2015 study saying they aren't different, and a 2017 that said they are. When you ask Tobold to source (which he probably should for stuff like that), can you also source yourself. Berating him for baseless claims while in the same sentence doing exactly the same is rather inefficient when trying to make a claim.
 
Personally I would say that Google was justified in firing the guy, because of the offensive judgments in his memo, e.g. saying that women make less good software engineers.

Did you actually read the essay? I don't think it ever says that. It says that women prefer other fields, so "discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business."

Could you cite the statements in the essay that you think are firing offenses?
 
Could you cite the statements in the essay that you think are firing offenses?

"Women, on average, have more neuroticism": I can't imagine any woman reading that without feeling offended, even if she is politically on the right. There is a general problem with the "on average" if you apply your "on average" data from the general population to a non-representative, self-selected sub-group. Software engineers at Google, as a group and independently of gender or race, are measurably different from the general population. Traits like "neuroticism" are probably not evenly distributed over professions, because there are professions in which they would stand out more than in others.

"Women generally having a harder time ... leading": Not my experience at all. And I don't know any hard scientific data to support that claim either. Anthropology knows of tribes ruled in a matriarchic system, which suggests that men leading isn't universal. Most of all this judgment is very offensive, because it basically says "we don't have many women in leadership positions because they can't lead".

@NoGuff: One of many sources. Google Scholar has 336,000 articles on brain gender differences measured by MRI. Sorry for not linking them all!
 
The first statement is correct, though. Wikipedia says "Personality studies find that women score moderately higher than men on neuroticism, by approximately half of a standard deviation."

As for the second statement, I think you're misrepresenting it. The full statement is:

This leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading. Note that these are just average differences and there’s overlap between men and women, but this is seen solely as a women’s issue. This leads to exclusory programs like Stretch and swaths of men without support.

He's saying that Google recognises this as a problem and has implemented programs to help their female employees deal with these issues. His complaint is that similar men who share these problems are excluded from these programs which could help them as well.

If Google has a program to make female employees better leaders, but not a similar program to help male employees, is it not Google who is saying that "Women have a harder time leading"?
 
@Caldazar

@NoGuff: I found a 2015 study saying they aren't different, and a 2017 that said they are. When you ask Tobold to source (which he probably should for stuff like that), can you also source yourself. Berating him for baseless claims while in the same sentence doing exactly the same is rather inefficient when trying to make a claim.

My point with that challenge is that since this has erupted, there is an inordinate amount of outcry on the internet that links to studies proving quite the opposite. Tobold speaks of distorting/attacking facts in his post, yet is still citing 336,000 articles to support the basis for his statement, which I don't deny or cannot refute with the same number of articles, but if you read just a few of them you will see that many of the same determinations are made that supports exactly what the guy who got fired was trying to say in his memo.

For Google to fire the guy, after having put such an important diversity program in place, without offering him the same training or support, reeks of an agenda that is made obvious by his firing. For heavens sake, Tobold even admits in his post that this is a right-vs-left issue, yet in other, more recent posts, he derides the methods the left is using to force their own world-views on society, yet he seems fine with this outcome and agrees with his firing even though the man was NOT given even a chance at retraining under the very program that seems to be punishing the guy for his opinions.

Are they saying that men who hold these beliefs will forever hold these opinions, and that it's better to just get rid of them without even attempting to retrain them?
 
I just wanted to make the point that judgement is equally anathema when talking about emotions.

I volunteer as a telephone crisis supporter. Part of our training focuses on non-judgemental reflection of feelings in order to communicate empathy and help build a connection with the caller.

In what circumstances is judgement appropriate in the modern world?

Of you will forgive me a judgement, mental shortcuts and rules-of-thumb may have been vital in ensuring our species' survival up to this point. Now it seems they are just a weakness to be exploited by marketers and politicians.
 
In what circumstances is judgement appropriate in the modern world?

There are a lot questions for which science doesn't have an answer. Most questions in politics are judgments: The facts tell you only that law A has consequence B, it doesn't tell you whether that makes law A right or wrong. Religion, ethics, and morals are domains of judgment as well. So are beauty and art.

The very question of this event is a question of judgment: What has a higher value: Freedom of speech, or gender equality? There is no factual answer for that.
 
Calling this a "memo" misrepresents how it was presented. It's not as if he spammed the company with it, or went to the press. In the Reddit discussion on this, it is said that he linked it as an open Google doc in a private, " internal Google Group forum for discussion as a live document.", "asking for critique of his viewpoints, and how to better express his opinions. " The forum was specific intended for discussion of difficult subjects. Of course, those who disagreed with it promptly shared the crap out of it and leaked it to the media. If you can't have this sort of discussion there, where exactly are you supposed to have it? Unfortunately for him, this was apparently already a hot button issue at Google due to some major lawsuits they're involved with regarding their corporate culture, and thus they presumably chose to sacrifice him rather than tolerate his viewpoints.
 
@Tobold: a big bunch of female employees missed work the next day due to "emotional damage" by the memo. That's pretty clear evidence of them being neurotic.

While I agree that individuals cannot be judged by group averages (average man can't run 100m in 10 seconds doesn't mean athletes cannot), the whole diversity issue is about averages. You can only have equal amount of woman and men if their AVERAGE performance is equal. If the averages differ, their share differ (for example people who are at least 180cm tall are 90% male). The average woman is more emotional (=neurotic), which means less women are qualified to STEM jobs where your emotions are nothing but distraction.

Finally, you are setting an impossible and double-standard demand for this guy to keep his job:
- writing 10 pages without judgement calls is not possible for any human. Encyclopedias do it by being written by many people culling each other's judgement calls
- leftist judgement calls, even very partisan and offensive (like working on the Clinton campaign as the diversity VP did) are tolerated
 
@Gevlon: I'm pretty sure that somebody working for Breibart would be fired for a leftist judgement call. The only thing you proved is that Google is an organization with a leftist bias, which pretty much everybody already knew. There is no law against any company having a leftist or right-wing bias. And the legal situation about getting fired for voicing an opinion which is contrary to the bias of your organozation is not very clear, there are a number of laws and regulations that contradict each other.
 
As anecdotal as her related experience is, I can't help but wonder if her references and use of terms like "testosterone" "brotastic" and to the "after work" activities of her male counterparts isn't a bit sexist in its own right. She ultimately places the blame on sexism itself, which is odd considering the initial tone of her article and the point she is trying to make. But her statement of the following is troubling:

But as my story also suggests, when a field is mostly guys, it’s going to feel less than perfectly comfortable for women unless some pretty heroic efforts are made to counteract all that free-floating testosterone.

It's troubling because "free floating testosterone" doesn't stop from being a "thing" the moment someone clocks in at work, nor do women stop suffering from the effects of PMS just because they show up for work. We have to recognize, understand and embrace the subtle, and not-so-subtle differences that exists between the sexes if we're ever going to be able to work together effectively.
 
There seems to be a lot of assumptions about why he was actually fired - while we are mostly getting the outsider's view, this post by someone who's just quit Google is probably pretty close to the reason: https://medium.com/@yonatanzunger/so-about-this-googlers-manifesto-1e3773ed1788
 
I was under the assumption that he was fired because of the various discrimination lawsuits against Google. The opposing lawyers would have had a field day if he hadn't been fired and they could present the memo as "accepted opinion within Google".
 
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