Do All Or Most Women Innately Prefer Non-Tech Careers? Re: James Damore Google Memo (part 1) | (Part 2)
(Summary of blog post: Due to gender stereotypes and unconscious bias by teachers, many girls are discouraged from entering STEM fields, taking more math and science courses)
The following two blog posts provide links to material by others refuting and criticizing the notion that most to all women biologically prefer not to enter tech, science, or computer- related career fields.
I also, here in Part 1, mention some of my own ideas about this issue.
But before I turn to that subject or to the links, I want to explain why I am bothering to construct these posts (I feel these posts are unnecessary, actually, as my previous Damore posts already repudiated this idea that all women prefer non-tech jobs).
Motivation Behind The Posts
I was apparently wrong about this person’s intent, motives, and integrity, or that this individual would care about how she was treating me. This is something I may blog about later, time permitting.
I had been online acquaintances with one Lydia -I think the last name, as she presents it online, is Malone- for about a year or more, mostly on Twitter, and she has posted to this blog before. We both occasionally post to another group’s blog.
In particular, for several months now, Lydia has not missed an opportunity to harass me over my views on the ‘MeToo’ Twitter phenomenon, but especially anything I tweet that is critical of the James Damore Google Memo.
Here is a brief summary, by the way, of what the Damore Google Memo was all about, via WIRED:
In early August , a Google engineer named James Damore posted a document titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” to an internal online discussion group.
His memo was a calm attempt to point out all the ways Google has gone wrong in making gender representation among its employees a corporate priority. And then, on August 5, the memo jumped the fence. Nobody else was calm about it.
…The core arguments [by Damore in his memo] run to this tune: Men and women have psychological differences that are a result of their underlying biology. Those differences make them differently suited to and interested in the work that is core to Google
/ end quote
Yes, I am characterizing Lydia’s behavior in this area towards me on Twitter as harassment, not merely as her expressing her views, as she is wont to portray it, as I will explain.
I initially would not have used the description of “harassment” of Lydia’s behavior in months past, but given the turn of events of February 6, 2018, I believe that term to be accurate at this point.
I wrote more about Lydia’s odd behavior and fixation on this subject, in stalking me about it, in this post.
Even though in the past, I mainly ignored Lydia’s attempts to bait me into an argument about the Damore memo, or I only left her very brief replies when she confronted me on it, and even as so much as Feb. 6, I forth-rightly told her on Twitter that I was tired of her hounding me on this subject and to please stop, but she only continued on bothering me about it.
Lydia even went so far as to mock me in regards to the Tweet I sent her asking her to please halt by quoting my very words back at me, the way a bratty eight year old child would do to another child.
It was also a very cold, unfeeling, emotionally insensitive and tone deaf behavior, and it’s not the way someone would treat a friend or acquaintance. (I may write more about this in another post at a later time – Edit: you can now read that post here.)
Out of all things Damore, Lydia is even more strangely obsessed with a Scandanavian (specifically a Finnish, if I recall correctly) study that I believe was published in 2016, or maybe 2017.
The study Lydia described to me sounds familiar, and I believe I read it on my own prior to her bringing it up, many months ago.
I unfortunately cannot remember where I saw the study, or who funded it or sponsored it. The only detail I recall is that I think it was a Finnish study.
One of the things this Finnish study purported to find is something like when a society becomes more gender egalitarian, as Finnish culture supposedly is, women display preferences for certain types of work over other types of work.
Note above I say supposedly, because I found a 2013 Finnish economic study that says that Finnish society is not quite so gender egalitarian after all, nor does it quite support Lydia’s or Damore’s views on other subjects.
I will quote excerpts from this 2013 study later.
Damore Did Not Base His Claims On A Finnish Study, So Why Is Lydia Harping on One?
Concerning the Damore memo, it’s my understanding, based on some of the additional reading I’ve been doing on this subject (links to which much farther below), that Damore did not cite a Finnish study to prove his points regarding innate female preferences in career choice, so why is Lydia pointing to such a study?
If you’re criticizing me for criticizing Damore over his sexist Google memo, I think I’d prefer you stick to what Damore actually said or did in his memo or in subsequent interviews where he was defending said memo.
If Damore did not cite a Finnish study in his memo, I don’t know as though I find it fair or relevant to ask me to take a look at that and then comment on it.
Then the person hounding me to refute the article did not provide me with a link or title to it, and I don’t know where to find it (and I looked).
On that point, about women’s career choices, Damore instead quoted from journal of ‘Social and Personality Psychology Compass,’ (which is not a Finnish study or work), and he arrived at a conclusion that the journal authors themselves did not support (more on this way, way below, or possibly in Part 2 of this post, or see this off site link, where it’s mentioned).
Regardless, numerous researchers I have since read over the last two days (and cite in part 1 this page and some in part 2) have debunked the idea – even as put forward in a Finnish study, or where ever Lydia wishes to quote it from – that all to most women are prone to want to select non-tech fields based on gender related reasons at all, or alone.
If Finnish authors wrote such a study, they were likely quoting C. Hakim as a source, and I have a section at the end of Part 2 that refutes Hakim’s claims and opinions (see bottom of part 2 under the section: Related: Hakim’s Preference Theory Critiqued.)
As of today, though I googled and googled for a Finnish study about career preferences, I have not been able to find it.
I’m not sure if one of the two Finnish studies I did find are the ones Lydia referred to. She really should have sent me a link to it and/or a title and author name.
Flawed At Its Premise or Base
Before I even address any specifics of the study Lydia keeps hounding me about, assuming I can find that study again online, I already pointed out to Lydia on Twitter months ago, and I think on older posts here, that I have problems in general with this one study before we even consider any specifics of the study.
Some of these points I brought up before, some no.
I don’t agree with the conclusions that she or Damore have arrived at from that study.
I think Damore and/or Lydia are mis-applying the study, or arriving at unfounded conclusions from that study.
I don’t find it necessary to refute the particular study on its particulars, the study that Lydia is so fond of rubbing in my nose, for several reasons.
Before I get to that, bear with me as I give a lengthy analogy:
Like Complementarianism: Fixated on One or Two Minor Details That Do Not Prove the Position Or Disprove the Dissenting One
Lydia’s insistence that I deal with the Finnish study (and she has brought this same study up repeatedly with me on Twitter for many months now – it’s kind of creepy at this point) is similar to how Christian gender complementarians want to debate and argue over matters pertaining to gender roles.
As I’ve explained on older posts, one reason of several I don’t find it necessary to argue about anal retentive, nit picky points with complementarians (nor do I have the patience to do so), the ones that they enjoy arguing about, say, for example…
Getting into long arguments over how the koine Greek word “kephalē,” as used in the Bible, should be understood, is that the complementarian premise is flawed at its very basis, and it focuses on the bark on the trees and not the forest – the big picture.
When one stands back and views the Scriptures in total (the big picture, the forest, not the trees), one can see that it teaches the equality (not sameness) of both genders, and teaches other concepts that are detrimental and antithetical to complementarianism.
For example, the Bible teaches mutual submission of all Christians each to another, including all men to women, and women to men, not a one-way submission of women to men or wives to husbands. The New Testament asks all believers who have cultural power and prestige to give it all up, stop asserting authority over others, and serve one another.
Additionally, Jesus Christ warns his followers not to lord authority over each other, but complementarians very much promote the notion that men should have absolute authority over women.
Complementarianism is therefore in conflict with the teachings of Jesus, Paul, and other biblical writers on several fronts, those just being a few examples or concepts.
Complementarians often neglect to consider that their interpretation may be in error, they neglect to take cultural or time- specific elements into consideration, which leads them to mistakenly trying to apply all of the New Testament’s rules and regulations to believers of every culture, time and era, though they are not applicable to all for all time.
Further, there are biblical examples that thwart complementarianism, such as women leading or directing men, such as, Deborah in the Old Testament, who led a military comprised of male soldiers – and she commanded them at God’s bidding, not because there were “no men available.”
Complementarianism is flawed at its very core, at its base assumptions, and is flawed in its narrow focus on only two or three favorite, cherry picked verses (about women not teaching and so on) that don’t explain away the examples in Scripture or women leading, teaching, or leading men into war.
Due to all this, I don’t find it necessary to spend ten weeks arguing with a complementarian over what the ancient Greek word kephalē means.
The complementarian gender philosophy is flawed at the starting gate. I don’t have to go to the finish line, or point to every flea on the horse in the race to show how mistaken their position is.
Lydia is also guilty of doing this sort of thing that complementarians do.
I’m standing back and looking at the entire dog of the James Damore memo, and the many other studies and articles that refuted it, but Lydia keeps wanting to point to the one, lone flea of the 457 on the dog’s back, and wants me to explain that one flea.
It’s a time- sucking, boring exercise. I’d rather be doing something more worthwhile, fun, and interesting, such as watching Guy’s Grocery Games.
Some of the reasons why I reject Damore’s memo, regardless of any Finnish study talking about supposed womanly career preferences:
I don’t buy into some of the premises out-right nor how Damore applies studies such as this one.
1a. Individiual Vs Group
First of all, Lydia repeatedly likes to claim things about herself, one of which is, she believes in the individual over the group.
If that is the case, why is Lydia harping on a study that is lumping all women together in one group?
Even if I grant the premise of the study and say it’s applicable to almost (or is it all? Does the study say it’s only applicable to X percent of the group) women everywhere (not just Finnish women in Finnish culture), what about the individuals for whom this study is not true?
What if a woman is in fact born interested in tech issues, and a male hiring manager at a company she applies at doesn’t hire that woman.
Suppose he is motivated to do this all because he’s seen this Finnish study and decides he should only hire men, because men are inherently more into tech than women are, and he may conclude that men would stay with the company longer and be better at tech.
1b. Misapplying the Finnish (or any) study
How does Lydia know that this study would not be used to bar women from careers they do want to enter?
How does Lydia know that Finnish schools or culture won’t create a self fulfilling prophecy in this area, where Finnish girls hear all the time from their parents and school teachers how they are all supposedly hard-wired to prefer giving hugs to kittens, baking cookies, and knitting socks for elephants and that only boys are interested in tech?
What about the ten percent of Finnish girls who are not born with an innate preference for baking cookies and so on?
We hear similar messages like that in American culture – that girls are better at language (writing), speaking (verbal tasks), and being tidy than boys are, while all to most boys, we often hear in American culture, are better than girls at math, being tough, and boys are messy.
Various American studies have shown that this sort of gender role generalizing not only creates self-fulling prophecies, so that girls don’t even bother to try at math type positions later in life, but, as one article explains, cultural gender role expectations can and do shape the human brain biologically (more on that later).
2. How Accurate Is the Study
Secondly, is the Finnish study flawed?
How do I know if its research is solid, with no error? Can Lydia demonstrate that this study was conducted competently?
See this relevant page:
Hypothesis: Scientists have a superior ability to root out gender bias in their labs because they are trained to rigorously reject subjective criteria.
Experimental result: Naaahhh.
Yale University researchers asked 127 scientists to review a job application of identically qualified male and female students and found that the faculty members – both men and women – consistently scored a male candidate higher on a number of criteria such as competency and were more likely to hire the male.
The result came as no surprise to Jo Handelsman, professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology (MCDB), a leading microbiologist, and national expert on science education. She is the lead author of the study scheduled to be published the week of Sept. 24 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
[read more of that page here]
3. Finnish Culture Vs. American
Thirdly, if it’s a Finnish study about women in Finland, how applicable is Finnish preferences, culture, life, marriage, employment, and so on and so forth, to American women living and working in the United States?
4. Why does one (Finnish) study magically outweigh many (American) studies?
Why should I give precedence to a Finnish study as opposed to the many other studies, interviews, and articles on this topic that do not support Damore or Lydia’s views?
What about all the American studies of American women and gender differences that do in fact point to the reality that American girls are socially conditioned to believe that are not as competent at STEM as boys and men are, so they decide to stay away from STEM?
Why or how does one lone Finnish study on Finnish women negate all the many, many American studies (several links I provided in previous posts) showing that it’s societal conditioning, and/or economic disparity or job discrimination between men and women, and/or environment that largely determine why women choose what jobs they do, not innate differences?
Why is Lydia expecting me to ignore the many studies that have shown that career choice and/or aptitude is not due to biological differences between men and women but to cultural factors to some degree or another?
Why should I give more weight to a Finnish study than many more American ones on these issues?
Why are Finns supposedly more authoritative on gender related issues than Americans? Lydia has never explained this mystery to me.
Other Studies, Articles
In my Damore part 2 post I already provided a slew of links to studies, research, and interviews with tech workers, scientists, and so on, who explain why Damore’s memo was in error in many areas.
Speaking of Finnish gender roles and the work place: here is an abstract of a 2013 Finnish study (link farther below) saying that one reason men get work place promotions more often than women in Finland is that many Finnish men still have traditional gender role views (as do some of the women), they expect women to marry and have babies, take care of most of the housework, and family care is left up mostly to women. This study also mentions female career preferences and choices.
Excerpt of that, via Hanken School of Economics (Finland):
In Finland and most countries, female representation in executive positions is scarce.
This study examines whether gender differences in career and family related preferences and traditional stereotypical beliefs might have an effect on the observed promotion gap between men and women to into top management positions in Finland.
….Results [of the study] suggest that male managers have more preferences towards pursuing a career than female managers; they are significantly more willing to consider promotions and aim to achieve a higher organizational level.
Female managers on the other hand show more preferences towards family. Having children does not permanently alter managers’ career goals differently; however women take a significantly larger share of household and childcare duties and are more likely to face a temporary career
slowdown after having had children.
Further, Finnish managers in general, are rather traditional in their beliefs regarding women’s career interests. These beliefs appear to have an impact on what is considered acceptable and how individuals act. The differences in preferences, societal structure and social norms seem to affect each other and help to explain gender differences in promotion.
(Source, pdf format)
So, even in that 2013 study regarding the Finnish workplace, it’s not purely feminine preference at work in why men out-pace women at the job, but societal gender role expectations, just like we have here in the United States, play a role.
Their gender expectations sound like sexist ones, ones that indicate it’s a woman’s duty to support the man and do the majority of the housework and child care. It’s not an innate love of mopping floors, or an innate aversion to receiving promotions at work, nope.
From page 25 of that same Finnish study, pdf:
Vanhala and Pesonen (2008) studied Finnish Middle managers’ perceptions about female leadership by focusing on beliefs regarding female discrimination and male leadership superiority among other factors.
Results show that neither men nor women believe that “the male way of leading is more efficient”. Interestingly, half of men and three out of four women agreed to the statement “What hinders women from getting to the top positions is that women rather stay in so called specialist positions than get line management experience”.
Women also tended to agree more than men with the statement “women are less willing to take responsibility” and that “women lack the courage to take on challenging tasks”.
The results would imply that female middle managers tend to have more stereotypical beliefs about women’s will to advance. This is somewhat surprising when comparing to the US where especially women’s view on women and leadership is shifting towards a more gender-neutral direction (Schein, 2001).
How truly gender egalitarian is Finnish society, as Lydia was telling me it supposedly is, when one of their own studies say that American women are more ahead of the curve in how accepting they are about women being in leadership roles?
I would encourage the reader to finish reading that study – from page 25 downwards, under the “Gender Stereotypes” heading.
I take it that Finland has far more generous maternity / family leave policies in businesses than the average American workplace which is why maybe some are perceiving Finland as a Themyscira (paradise for all women), but….
Finland, according to this Finnish study, is not quite the Mecca of gender egalitarianism some may think. They have their own sexist cultural views and biases they are dealing with.
Quote from page 31 of that Finnish study:
Although Finns are offered generous parental leave schemes and publicly supported childcare it can still be difficult to combine everyday living with small children and a demanding career.
From that same study, page 82
In the study it has been assumed that women’s actions reflect their preferences, yet societal structure and social norms can also impact preferences and the choices women make. Norms affect what people believe is acceptable and the choices women make.
It is therefore plausible that norms together with the societal structure, especially the family friendly policies in Finland, influence and explain preference disparities among male and female managers.
Preferences, societal structure and norms all seem to affect the signaling intensity of men and women, which ultimately may contribute to explaining why women are not promoted into senior management positions in the
same extent as men are.
There you are. From a Finnish study, by Anna Klaile, 2013, via Hanken School of Economics, saying that societal norms, gender role expectations, yada yada, do play a role in Finland in women’s preferences, and why they are not promoted as much as men are.
Did I mention this was all from a Finnish study of Finnish people from Finland? Because Lydia seems to be fixated upon Finnish studies, all in order to argue on behalf of Damore.
I guess a single Finnish study out-weighs five or more American ones that dispute (and see part 2 for more) whatever it is she or Damore thinks a single Finnish paper was saying. Which this other Finnish study is also disputing, LOL!
Does or can one Finnish study cancel out another Finnish study?
Some of the articles address Damore’s claims about women biologically preferring people to things, which is a point Lydia harps on by way of a Finnish study.
The only other Finnish study I have found so far is this one (the following page references Hakim, among others, and the rest of my links in this section refute Hakim’s views):
(Google cache link):
ELINA SCHLEUTKER, Department of Political Science, University of Freiburg
To better understand the correlation between fertility, female employment, and family policy, this paper employs Finnish register data on women born in 1969 to study the association between women’s labour market careers and fertility.
The investigation is based on a theoretical argument which holds that women make different kinds of strategic choices about their careers as influenced by their own preferences, family policies, and household resources. Women are divided into three different groups based on their activity in the labour market from the month they reach age 18 until the month before they turn 35.
…At the same time, the research on fertility ideals (Goldstein, Lutz and Testa 2003; Heiland, Prskawetz and Sanderson 2008), employment preferences (Janus 2012; Vitali et al. 2009), fertility outcomes (Frejka 2008), and women’s labour market participation (Lewis, Campbell and Huerta 2008) shows that women are heterogeneous in their desires and choices.
Thus, even though it is not clear how and to which extent preferences and constraints influence women’s choices, previous research suggests that it is important to not treat women as one homogeneous group, but to investigate the heterogeneity in more detail.
Even though the author seems to agree with Hakim (see my links addressing Hakim’s views in bottom of part 2 under “Related: Hakim’s Preference Theory Critiqued”), the author still makes comments such as this in the study:
The results from the above studies show that there is a gap between preferences and behaviour.
For example, Hakovirta and Salin (2006, 264) conclude that only 59% of the mothers who wanted to stay at home actually realized this choice, whereas 28% were working full-time, and 13% were working part-time.
Further, of mothers with part-time preference 53% were against their wishes in full-time employment and 22% were at home, which means that only 25% of the women worked part-time.
The situation was best for those women who preferred full-time work, as 91% of them were working full-time and 9% were at home. In other words, preferences alone do not explain behaviour, but it is likely that some factors constrain women’s possibilities to choose according to their preferences.
The same author notes that in her view, Finland’s policies and other factors influence what choices women make; this was the sub heading of one section of her page:
Preferences, family policies, and household’s resources as determinants of career strategies
…In order to understand women’s career strategy choices it is, in addition to preferences, important to concentrate on family policy and household’s own resources (i.e. financial assets, family members and relatives who participate in childcare), as these factors are well known to influence the choices women make.
I’m not seeing how any of this supports Lydia’s or Damore’s contention that women innately are non-tech.
I’ve not been able to find the specific Finnish study (unless it’s one of the other ones on this page, such as the one from Finnish Yearbook of Population Research), and Lydia did not, as I recall, give me a link to it or cite its title or author, but many authors have already refuted these claims, regardless of the source (Finnish study or whatever it may be).
Science Totally Debunks That Shocking Manifesto That Got a Google Employee Fired by DANA VARINSKY, BUSINESS INSIDER
Here are the specific claims Damore made in his manifesto, and the real science behind them.
Biological gender differences
Although some differences between men and women have been observed by scientists, they are mostly physical ones. Current research generally does not find evidence that variations in preferences, psychology, or personality stem from genetic or biological factors. Rather, they’re primarily attributed to culture and socialisation.
In his manifesto, however, Damore suggested the gender differences he lists do have biological components. One justification he gives for this belief is that the differences he mentions are “what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective” and are “universal across human cultures.”
Damore didn’t cite any sources to back up his reasoning. However, a 2001 analysis of responses to a prominent personality inventory test found that “contrary to predictions from evolutionary theory, the magnitude of gender differences varied across cultures” – a direct contradiction to his argument.
A strong ‘interest in people rather than things’
One of the main biological differences between men and women, according to Damore, is that women are more open to feelings and “have a stronger interest in people rather than things.”
He went on to suggest: “These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas. More men may like coding because it requires systemising.”
Throughout his memo, Damore linked to many Wikipedia pages as justification for his claims – but neither news media organisations nor scientists accept Wikipedia as a credible source of information, especially when used in policy recommendations.
To back up the “people over things” hypothesis, Damore cited a study published in the journal Social and Personality Psychology Compass in 2010; however, that work never suggests that the gender differences it lists have a proven biological basis.
In fact, the study says the opposite: “Although most biologic scientists accept that sexual selection has led to sex differences in physical traits such as height, musculature, and fat distributions, many social scientists are sceptical about the role of sexual selection in generating psychological gender differences.”
A 2000 review of 10 studies related to gender differences in empathy also suggests men and women don’t have innate differences in this area. The researchers found that such distinctions were only present in situations where the subjects were “aware that they are being evaluated on an empathy-relevant dimension” or in which “empathy-relevant gender-role expectations or obligations are made salient.”
In other words, differences had to do with how people responded to expectations of them, not any inherent abilities.
Adam Grant, a professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, has also highlighted the fact that differences between men and women’s professional preferences are not genetically determined.
“The data on occupational interests do reveal strong male preferences for working with things and strong female preferences for working with people,” Grant wrote in a LinkedIn essay responding to Damore’s claims.
“But they also reveal that men and women are equally interested in working with data.”
The argument has three main components, as I see them:
· That existing gender diversity in certain roles in dictated by occupational choices primarily
· That occupational choices are dictated by preferences in varying areas, but most specifically around status seeking and desire for work-life balance
· That these status-seeking preferences are dictated by biology, most specifically by testosterone
Working from the most basic or first building block of his argument, that preferences are dictated by biology, I will address the relative strengths or weakness of this part of the paper and move on to the other parts.
Damore writes a long paragraph with several completely un-cited or unsupported assertions:
[snip Damore’s paragraph here; visit this page if you want to see it]
…By this metric [his citation habits, quoting from sources, backing up his claims, etc], he makes several arguments that are integral to his overall argument that he does not either interrogate or support with any citations whatsoever. He presents them as well-established facts. They are not.
Moving on to the components of the argument that he does support, let us examine individually and then as a group, the credibility of those supporting sources. In my college education, and as far as I understand it in the wider scientific community, sources must be primary, peer reviewed, and unbiased (as much as possible) to be considered credible. If a source fails on any of these levels, it needs to act as a secondary source, and be either interrogated or developed additionally by a primary source.
Sources such as personal blogs or webpages, Wikipedia, fictional works, or studies that are past a certain age (limits vary, but when dealing with hard science, generally the limit would be 10 years at the outside) are not considered primary, credible sources.
The first source that is used to develop or prove his argument:
Women on average have more […] is Wikipedia.
The title of this Wikipedia article is “Sex differences in psychology.” One may note that this article is not a peer reviewed scientific study, or, more importantly, does not address directly or in the main biological differences that lead to preferences in occupational choices.
In fact, the first sentence in this source says Sex differences in psychology or gender differences are differences in the mental functions and behaviors of the sexes, and are due to a complex interplay of biological, developmental, and cultural factors. (emphasis theirs)
Secondly, psychology is not a holistic view of occupational paths dictated by gender differentiated preferences.
This article is not only not a credible primary source, it does not actually support the assertion that is being made in Damore’s memo.
Moving on to the second cited source, which is hyperlinked in this sentence:
Openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas. Women generally also have a stronger interest in people rather than things.
The hyperlink is on the words “people rather than things.”
This source article is sound. It is a scientific study that is peer reviewed and was published 7 years ago.
There are several issues with the data in this study, however.
The first issue is that the data is primarily drawn from self-reported results on standardized tests.
Research on gender differences in personality and interests typically relies on data from standardized tests. Because such tests use self-report scales, their scores may be influenced by social stereotypes, social desirability response sets, and self-construal processes (See Feingold, 1994; Guimond, 2008).
// end inset quote
The author of the paper allows that standardized testing, by design, can be biased in a clear statement in his remarks on the results. The author of this source also spends a significant amount of time explaining social-environmental theories of personality differences in the genders, although this is a position that the author does not agree with, citing other sound sources in his remarks.
The data is interesting. The author of the paper finds significantly higher (sometimes as high as a factor of 125%, as in the difference between .15 and -1.40) differences between the genders than other studies do, and his work is a meta-analysis of other existing studies, as well as an independent study with a much lower number than the second lowest amount (by 8000, or almost 90% lower than the next highest) of participants.
His study also measures a kind of amalgam of all “Big Five” traits rather than each trait individually, for which the differences between genders range from “small” to “moderate” according to the protocols established by the study. In short, the method and the data are not bulletproof.
…The most important thing I would like to raise is that again, all these studies establish is that gender-based differences in personality exist, not that they are exclusively biological in origin, or that they in turn affect occupational choices, or that gender differences in occupations is mostly due to preferential choice rather than a complex combination of factors.
…This is a structural issue with the paper as a whole. Damore repeatedly extrapolates on what could fairly be considered strong source material and does not connect the dots for the reader with primary sources. Instead he connects it with what appears to be his opinion, which is not supported in any way.
via Wired, by Megan Molteni and Adam Rogers
…The problem is, the science in Damore’s memo is still very much in play, and his analysis of its implications is at best politically naive and at worst dangerous.
The memo is a species of discourse peculiar to politically polarized times: cherry-picking scientific evidence to support a preexisting point of view. It’s an exercise not in rational argument but in rhetorical point scoring. And a careful walk through the science proves it.
The Incoherency Problem
Psychology as a field has been trying to figure out the differences between men and women, if any, for more than a century—paging Dr. Freud, as the saying goes. The results of these efforts are ambiguous. And psychologists are still working on it.
…Damore does this over and over again, holding up social science that tries to quantify human variation to support his view of the world. In general, he notes, women prefer to work with people and men prefer to work with things—the implication being that Google is a more thing-oriented workplace, so it just makes sense that fewer women would want to work there.
Again, the central assertion here is fairly uncontroversial. “On average—and I emphasize that, on average—men are more interested in thing-oriented occupations and fields, and that difference is actually quite large,” says Richard Lippa, a psychologist at Cal State Fullerton and another of the researchers who Damore cites.
But trying to use that data to explain gender disparities in the workplace is irrelevant at best. “I would assume that women in technical positions at Google are more thing-oriented than the average woman,” Lippa says. “But then an interesting question is, are they more thing-oriented than the average male Google employee? I don’t know the answer to that.”
Semantics aren’t helping here. Is coding a thing- or people-oriented job? What about when you do it in a corporation with 72,000 people? When you’re managing a team of engineers? When you’re trying to marshal support for your proposed expenditure of person-hours versus someone else’s? Which is more thing-oriented, deep neural networks or database optimization?
And maybe the most important question: How useful are psychological studies of the general population when you’re talking about Googlers?
Nature vs. Nurture
Damore essentially forecloses the possibility of changing sex roles and representation at Google—or anywhere, really—by asserting that not only are the differences between men and women significant but that they are at least in part intrinsic. Damore doesn’t assert that biology is the only factor in play, and no scientist does either. But how important biology is to psychology is—again—in heavy dispute
Nothing to argue about here. If men and women didn’t differ biologically, it would make sexual reproduction very difficult indeed. Also, men and women differ in height (on average), bone mass (on average), and fat, muscle, and body hair distribution (on average). No one thinks those differences are socially constructed.
Damore, though, is saying that differences in cognitive or personality traits—if they exist at all—have both social and biological origins. And those biological origins, he says, are exactly what scientists would predict from an evolutionary perspective.
Evolutionary psychology and its forebear, sociobiology, are themselves problematic fields.
Two decades ago evo-psych was all the rage. It’s essential argument: Males and females across species have faced different kinds of pressures on their ability to successfully reproduce—the mechanism, simplistically, through which evolution operates.
Those pressures lead to different mating strategies for males and females, which in turn show up as biological and psychological differences—distinctions present in men and women today.
The problem with that set of logical inferences is that it provides a convenient excuse to paint a veneer of shaky science onto “me Tarzan, you Jane” stereotypes.
It’s the scientific equivalent of a lazy stand-up comedian joking about how all men dance like this— the idea that nature hardwires our differences. In fact, evolutionary biologists today race to point out that the nature-versus-nurture dichotomy is outdated. No serious scientist finds it to be a credible model.
In 2005, Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, suggested publicly that women might not have as much “innate ability” as men to succeed in academic disciplines that require advanced mathematical abilities.
In response, psychologists got together to assess more than 100 years of work and present a consensus statement about whether Summers was right.
They concluded that a wide range of sociocultural forces contribute to sex difference in STEM achievement and ability, including family, neighborhood, school influences, training experiences, cultural practices, and, yes, some biological factors.
When it comes to brain biology in particular, the authors wrote that “experience alters brain structures and functioning, so causal statements about brain differences and success in math and science are circular.” Most researchers today point to data that shows cognitive traits differ slightly on average between the sexes, but they change throughout an individual’s lifetime, influenced by a mix of genetic, epigenetic, and environmental (including social) factors.
From birth, boys and girls receive different, gender-specific treatment, which can enhance or inhibit any innate differences. That certainly has an effect on the findings of psychology.
The gap between girls and boys who say they want to go into the sciences is much more informed by stereotypes— on a survey of half a million people, 70 percent associated math with males— and cultural norms than by intrinsic ability.
“From infancy, boys get footballs and girls get dolls, so is it that surprising? We’ve been socializing them. It doesn’t mean there’s anything innate,” says Janet Hyde, director of the Center for Research on Gender and Women at the University of Wisconsin.
….In other words, the science on math and science abilities says differences between sexes depend much more on external factors than sex in and of itself. And those external factors and their results can change over time.
This is critical, because most of Damore’s memo seems to be talking about preferences, which is to say, rather than innate skill he means what women would rather be doing versus what men would rather be doing.
In fact, one recurring finding in sex difference research is that in cultures seen as more egalitarian, differences in preferences between men and women become more pronounced. With more opportunity, says one hypothesis, men and women are more likely to follow their respective blisses.
So when Damore does juke from preferences to abilities, it looks a little sneaky. Here’s what he writes: “I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women may differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t have equal representation of women in tech and leadership,” he writes.
Making the leap from personality differences to achievement differences would require citing at least some of the well-studied body of work we’ve mentioned here, which Damore ignored.
With the next pivot, the memo gets more pernicious. Damore switches—again, subtly—from effects to causes. His interpretation of the science around preference and ability is arguable; on causation, though, he’s even rockier….
Appeal to Science
….Climbing to an even higher altitude, though, we might ask another question about Damore’s appeal to science: So what?
Which is to say, what are we to do with not just the conclusions of the memo but also its implications?
Damore is hardly the first person to use science to justify social norms or political preferences.
Science has, too often in human history, been a tool for literal dehumanization as a rationale for oppression.
It happened to people of African descent in America; to the poor of the Victorian era; to women in the years leading up to suffrage; and to Jews, people of nonbinary gender, Roma, people with disabilities, and so on in Nazi Germany.
Historians try to wall off those ideas now— eugenics, phrenology, social Darwinism— but each, in its day, was just science.
With hindsight you can see that those pursuits weren’t science, and you can aim those 20/20 lenses at Damore too. What he’s advocating is scientism— using undercooked research as coverage for answering oppression with a shrug.
Science has, too often in human history, been a tool for literal dehumanization as a rationale for oppression.
…Damore’s dissent, stripped of its shaky scientism, isn’t a serious conversation about human difference. It’s an attempt to make permanent a power dynamic that shouldn’t exist in the first place. If Google was, for Damore, an echo chamber, that’s because his was the only voice he was really willing to hear.
Edit. September 2018
Sex stereotypes may account for why men dominate science and math, the researchers say.
by Maggie Fox / Sep.25.2018 / 12:19 PM CDT
Girls get better grades than boys do at all ages, including in math and science, researchers reported Tuesday.
A big analysis of grades covering 1.6 million elementary, high school and university students shows that girls outperform boys at all ages. This includes science, technology, engineering and math subjects, the Australian researchers said.
Their analysis also challenges one prevailing theory about why boys tend to excel in STEM fields: that there are more male “geniuses” who get perfect grades in those subjects, the team at the University of New South Wales in Sydney said.
… STEM fields are dominated by men, and for decades educators, medical professionals and the general public believed that males were somehow more adept at math, science and similar subjects. Teachers tend to gauge white girls’ math abilities lower than those of white male students, even when the girls’ grades and test scores are comparable to those of boys.
Debate over the theory peaked when then-Harvard University President Lawrence Summersmade comments suggesting that women had different biological capabilities. He resigned the next year.
O’Dea has her own theories about why women might steer clear of STEM fields. One is culture.
“Women in male-dominated pursuits, including STEM, face a paradox: If they conform to gender stereotypes, they might be perceived as less competent, but if they defy gender stereotypes and perform ‘like a man,’ then their progress can be halted by ‘backlash’ from both men and women,” she and colleagues wrote.
It is possible that since women have a bigger advantage over men in non-STEM subjects, they tend to gravitate toward those studies in school and college, O’Dea said.
Continued In Part 2
Men Depicted as Victims Part 2 – “Depressed, Repressed, Objectified: Are Men the New Women?” by E. Day – Or: Is it Scientifically Plausible That Men Are Innately Dumber Than Women And Do Men Biologically Prefer to Fail School?
(Marginally related to this Damore part 1 post you are currently viewing):
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This post has been edited to fix errors