It is an understatement to say that fired Google staffer James Damore’s 10-page “manifesto” on diversity has been controversial. Conservatives are enraged that he was sacked merely for stating his opinions. Liberals are enraged because he argued that, somehow, women have biological differences that may on average make them less suited to careers in tech.
Damore himself told Bloomberg that management at Google “just punished me and shamed me for doing it.”
There is something uniquely infuriating about the document, and the reaction to it, that has come up time and again among the dozens of readers who have reached out to me via email or on Twitter.
A huge part of that fury stems from the way that Damore treats “science.”
In the manifesto, Damore refers to “science” repeatedly: “Be open about the science of human nature,” he implores. “The Left tends to deny science concerning biological differences between people (e.g., IQ8 and sex differences),” and “the overwhelming majority of the social sciences, media, and Google lean left.”
The document, “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” is also filled with links to the “science” that he cites. You can read a copy with all the charts, footnotes and citations here.
Conservatives — or at least all the many conservatives who have contacted me — are enraged that he was fired simply for explaining the accepted science behind his argument. In his recent TV interview with Bloomberg Damore doubled down, saying his document was based on “the scientific consensus for a lot of these issues.”
That’s a problem.
Because even if you accept that all the science that Damore cites is accurate— and some of his citations lead to Wikipedia, or studies that are very old — there is a logical fallacy at the heart of his argument. The fallacy looks like this:
A) There are biological differences between men and women, as science has shown.
B) Men and women, on average, do different things in the workplace, as statistics show.
C) Therefore, A causes B.
D) We are trying too hard to change this because A causes B.
Of course, correlation is not the same as causation. This is the biggest flaw in Damore’s argument. Damore doesn’t address that — he just takes it as an obvious truism: Men and women are different, and this leads “to the lower number of women in high stress jobs,” as his manifesto says.
The beginning of Damore’s manifesto leans heavily on this fallacy. It says:
“On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just
socially constructed because:
● “They’re universal across human cultures
● “They often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone”
He concludes, “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”:
On Bloomberg, Damore added, “among psychologists there’s a consensus that prenatal testosterone does affect a lot of personality traits, in particular one’s interest in people vs. things … that distribution differs between men and women.” And this is why there is unequal representation of the genders in tech, he says.
The idea that your exposure to hormones as an embryo will somehow skew your entire career just isn’t true. If our pre-natal hormones controlled our job prospects then women’s work would not have changed much over time. In fact, it has changed dramatically.
In-utero testosterone exposure stayed roughly the same over that period.
One of the greatest experiments with women’s careers was done during World War 2, when men went off to fight and women were drafted into domestic manufacturing. With millions of men absent, women literally did men’s work.
A majority of British women worked in the war effort. This UK government poster showed 7 million British women working in industry during the war:
Using Damore’s logic, if a “scientist” had taken measurements in the UK between 1939 and 1945, he may have concluded that women’s exposure to prenatal testosterone made them predisposed, on average, to munitions manufacturing.
Clearly, that’s not how jobs happen.
The work we do — and who gets to do it — changes over time. Our work is a product of the world we live in today, not what happened to us in the womb. It’s interesting that 69% of Google employees are male. But that doesn’t make their presence in the company the result of “science.”