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Mark Bruce

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Google’s Tipping Point

Discussion, analysis, and commentary around the biggest event online in recent memory, the full repercussions of which will play out for a long time.

Part One: Misrepresentation
The original document is here:
Espousing an opinion on the document or its contents, without having read the original, risks opining from a position of ignorance or at least surrendering critical thinking faculties to someone else. For example, many commentators ridiculed the document because it lacked references, because many outlets that published it (like the original Gizmodo) conveniently removed all references and reformatted to remove graphs and other data. The original document includes links to lots of references.

It has been misrepresented as being anti-diversity when it goes at length to suggest better ways to increase diversity. It was claimed to use gender differences to prevent women working in tech when it merely discussed why less women in tech might be explained in part by innate gender differences in interests. It has been called hateful when it goes at length to uphold classical liberal principles that it is immoral to apply average characteristics of groups to individuals, and that each individual must always be treated on their personal merit and individual circumstance. It was claimed to be alt-right when the author evidences a centrist balance by stating that “Neither [left nor right] is 100% correct and both viewpoints are necessary for a functioning society or, in this case, company.” But the main thesis was that more discussion and speech is needed because “Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence.” and “This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.” And in this case the reaction to the memo proved these last points beyond any doubt.

The Atlantic has coverage of the mass misrepresentations of this memo in the media, and the dangers of such misrepresentations in furthering the decline in trust and perception of the media generally.
And The Washington Post also has similar coverage that makes many salient and reasonable points.

Having been fired the author will be suing Google and this provides an overview of why he has a good chance of winning.

Part Two: Scientific Facts
It was widely claimed that all of the claims in the memo were baseless pseudoscience and unsupported by scientific evidence. This is false. It is hard to know where to start or what portion of the overwhelming scientific evidence to point to that substantiate or support the claims.

Interview with Prof. Jordan Peterson and Memo Author
This is the first interview that the memo author gave to anyone, and in this case he chose arguably the greatest public intellectual currently operating, Prof. Jordan Peterson. It starts with an introduction and then goes into the claims made by the memo and (given this is Peterson’s area of expertise, research, and clinical practice) discussion of their validity. The description of the video includes a curated list of scientific publications and studies that support the claims; this list is an invaluable resource and should be examined by anyone with an interest in the scientific facts concerning this issue.

Professors of Psychology & Neuroscience Respond These four scientists give nuanced and thoughtful commentary on the science that supports the main claims and also critique some of the more egregious reactions to the piece. They provide many links to peer-reviewed studies of relevance that support the claims.
Graded fairly, his memo would get at least an A- in any masters’ level psychology course. Within the field of neuroscience, sex differences between women and men—when it comes to brain structure and function and associated differences in personality and occupational preferences—are understood to be true, because the evidence for them (thousands of studies) is strong. This is not information that’s considered controversial or up for debate.

In Defense of the Google Manifesto
This responds to some of the more awful reactions including those that fail to refute any of the scientific claims, by itself providing links to a large number of scientific studies that support the claims and including a number of other useful observations.
To know that an individual was released from his employment for stating verifiable facts confirmed by hundreds, if not thousands of studies about male and female sex differences is highly concerning.

Motivated Skepticism
Almost every instance in which the memo was claimed to be scientifically baseless was a poignant example of the phenomenon of motivated skepticism. This too was mentioned in the memo: “We all have biases and use motivated reasoning to dismiss ideas that run counter to our internal values.” Motivated skepticism is passive and only activates when your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, with the result being that your beliefs get stronger - This gets to the heart of the reactionary outrage to the memo because it turns out that when people were presented with evidence that suggests that their political beliefs might be incorrect, they react with the same brain regions that would come online if they were responding to a physical threat -

Motivated skepticism explains why another response to the memo went viral, simply because it sought to reinforce the beliefs that were being challenged by claiming to prove that such differences were “vastly” exaggerated. Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex thoroughly dissects and refutes this response article here It is long, detailed, and as usual, brilliant. Again with a great many examples and links to innumerable studies but it is Part V that most definitely should be read.
Silicon Valley was supposed to be better than this. It was supposed to be the life of the mind, where people who were interested in the mysteries of computation and cognition could get together and make the world better for everybody. Now it’s degenerated into this giant hatefest of everybody writing long screeds calling everyone else Nazis and demanding violence against them. Where if someone disagrees with the consensus, it’s just taken as a matter of course that we need to hunt them down, deny them of the cloak of anonymity, fire them, and blacklist them so they can never get a job again. Where the idea that we shouldn’t be a surveillance society where we carefully watch our coworkers for signs of sexism so we can report them to the authorities is exactly the sort of thing you get reported to the authorities if people see you saying.

Prof. Jonathan Haidt has co-authored a response to the menifesto by including meta-analyses of relevant studies for Heterodox Academy here One of the key things pointed out here is that the memo discusses differences in interests, but one of the key themes in responses was that it was misrepresented as promoting differences in ability; two very different and distinct things.
Damore is correct that there are “population level differences in distributions” of traits that are likely to be relevant for understanding gender gaps at Google. Even if we set aside all questions about the origins of these differences, the fact remains that there are gender differences in a variety of traits, and especially in interest/enjoyment (rather than ability) in the adult population from which Google and all other tech firms recruit.

Motte and Bailey Arguments
Much of the outrage and response against the memo has essentially taken the form of rhetoric around a motte and bailey logical fallacy, for example as overviewed here The relevant example of the fallacy in this particular instance is something like: Bailey: reverse discrimination to fix non equal representation is good, Motte: eugenics is wrong.

Other Examples
Evolutionary biologist chimes in with excellent commentary
Meta-analysis of sex differences
Big five personality trait differences
Theoretical Physicist Stephen Hsu rightly suggests that Google executives might want to head down the road to Stanford for a refresher course in reality

I'll finish this section with a Neil deGrasse Tyson quote, mainly for the delicious irony: “The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.”

Also, the rejection of evidence that conforms to scientific standards is a rejection of scientific standards as a whole.

Part Three: Insidious Intent
One of the most insidious problems with many of the responses to the Manifesto was the rampant projection and default propensity to judge things by their side effects. One of the first and most prominent responses to the Manifesto was profoundly awful for a number of reasons, not least of which this very propensity. The following brilliant article dissects that particular response and the inherent danger of judging things by their side effects:

The author does not think it important to address upfront whether or not the manifesto’s statements are true. However, the author does think it is important to address upfront that the manifesto’s statements are dangerous. Further, he elevates the danger to be his biggest and most important concern. He appears to believe that the side effects of saying words are strictly more important than the actual information content of these words. This is a normatively bad ideaand commits a post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc fallacy.

If one’s primary concern is not with whether or not a statement is true, but whether or not it is dangerous, this is a much more subjective thingIt creates impossible-to-understand situations. It creates fundamental disagreements that ultimately cannot be resolved without resorting to violence, whether symbolic or physical.

If we adopt a social norm that the side effects of speech are more important than its truth value, another problem arises: we can no longer trust the truth value of anything by default, ever. If we know that, when one’s priorities come in conflict with the truth, society prioritizes one’s priorities, then a necessary precondition to trusting someone is “knowing that their priorities are in line with the truth.” Once we can no longer trust the truth values of anything by default, we can no longer be confident in the correctness of our own reasoning or actions. At the extreme, this creates a miserable society, where nobody can trust one another, where everyone is disconnected from the fundamental constraints of reality, and consequently where everyone is constantly accidentally hurting themselves and each other with foolish mistakes and petty manipulations.

Ultimately, a focus on truth is equivalent to saying “I trust you, fully informed with all the facts, to do the right thing”. And a focus on harm (or any subjective metric) is equivalent to saying “so-and-so has the right to impose their decision on you”.

Ideology or Truth
Prof. Jonathan Haidt has detailed this very phenomena, noting that people and institutions cannot both pursue this ideology (that rejects truth) and truth at the same time. They are mutually incompatible and a University for example should choose to be one or the other, either an institution committed to truth, or one committed to the ideology. See here for example and an excerpt and transcript here

The Really Smart Guys Response
That same popular response to the memo is further dissected here This points out that the author of the response utterly fails to address any of the factual claims, indeed dismissing them all without basis, further sanctions silencing, punishment, and violence against the memo author, seeks to control which ideas are worthy of discussion, and again, promotes feelings over truth.
This is the “crimestop” idea in its most flagrant display. “Open discussion” is not welcome in corporate America. Period. If you try it, your personal items will be mailed to you. In just two paragraphs, he goes from unironically channeling “Animal Farm” to unironically channeling “1984.”

The Most Ideologically Intolerant People
Recent data from Pew Research, one of the most credible demographic research groups that exist, shows that the most ideologically intolerant people, on average, appear to be white left-leaning liberals with above-average intelligence and education. Might this be an accurate descriptor for the demographics of Google?

As a personal example of this terrible and hypocritical intolerance from this very demographic I’ll point to a post from earlier this year This is a share of a talk by one of Australia’s most accomplished and respected journalists, a woman with a stellar career and who has achieved more on average than most men. Some of the comments denigrating this woman for having different ideas are mindboggling.

Anti-Science Denialism
One of the most shocking aspects of the response to the memo has been the flagrant, overt science denialism on display. One example is on Slate, here There have been innumerable examples of outright denying the science and trotting out some token scientist parroting the correct narrative to claim an argument-from-authority dismissal. In general the response has been one founded on science-denialism, evolution-denial, biology-denial, evolutionary psychology-denial, reality-denial. All sacrificed on the altar of progressive ideology and no different to the evolution-denial of the religious right and little different to flat-Earthers. This relates to motivated skepticism once again.

Part Four: Tipping Point
What many fail to realise about the counter-response to the initial response and subsequent firing of the memo author, is that this was the tipping point. This one event resonated strongly and deeply across the Internet. So many people, in so many forums and comments, arrived at the exact same conclusion and horrified realisation as I did: Enough. No more. The response by Google parted the curtain and revealed the internal culture at the heart of the company, and this painted all previously worrying announcements and news in an undeniably dark and foreboding light. Examples:

1. Prof. Jordan Peterson, the same mentioned above, had his Google / Gmail / YouTube account mysteriously deleted by Google. No notice. No reason. It was only because of his profile and inside connections of fans that he was able to get the account reinstated several hours later. No explanation was given.

2. Recent updates to YouTube allow the censoring of almost anything. They will send “controversial” videos that are flagged enough into purgatory, purely for subjective reasons, even if they don’t break the rules. This update also enlists the help of “expert” organisations to hunt for “hate speech” videos to remove them at will, again based on purely subjective preferences. Finally, using Jigsaw technology to redirect “sensitive keywords” to curated video playlists to provide a counter-message.

3. YouTube launched the Heroes Program to gamify the moderation, flagging, and removal of “controversial” videos. And there is also the ever-growing efforts to demonetise all “controversial” videos, which really appears to be just videos that go against the ideology underpinning the response to the memo. In recent days there has been a spate of mass-demonetisations. Plus there are reports of regular shenanigans with people being surreptitiously unsubscribed from certain channels.

4. Claims of the manipulation of search and auto-fill results with a distinct ideological preference, and evidencing the power to do great harm if taken advantage of. E.g.,

Virtually everyone knows that Google’s motto was “Don’t Be Evil.” But fewer people know that this was dropped in 2015 for the more subjective and flexible “Do The Right Thing.”

Part Five: Google Turns Evil
The problems in Google are a microcosm of the problems facing society more broadly. Despite a third of Google employees agreeing with the memo, and just over half agreeing that it should have been shared and the memo author should not have been fired, it is clear that the company has been overtaken by authoritarian ideologues. Here we have the pre-eminent company in the world working to organise the world’s knowledge and information, a virtual monopoly, and yet it is filled with ideologues who deny science, deny facts, and deny evolution when it challenges their beliefs. More importantly the culture of the company denies truth as a primary value and instead relegates truth to a distant priority behind feelings, beliefs, and opinions.

The company is guided by a culture built on postmodernism and cultural marxism, that doesn’t believe in truth, abhors debate, is completely and absolutely intolerant of different opinions and viewpoints, and punishes those who dare challenge the narrative as wrongthinkers guilty of thoughtcrime. This is fundamentally illiberal and the antithesis of enlightenment thinking.

It is not hyperbole to now draw the comparison of Google to an Orwellian Ministry of Truth. It’s massive infrastructure cements a presence throughout the entire Internet. There are few places you can go online without Google collecting data on at least some of your goings. And for those of us fully embedded into the Google ecosystem it may very well know us better than we know ourselves. In the very early days of Google they foresaw and understood this awesome power that would grow and be at their disposal, and this is why they adopted the “Don’t Be Evil” motto. They understood that such immense power could be used for great harm as well as great good.

It is now increasingly being used for evil.

Efforts are made to push a pseudoscientific agenda onto users. Efforts are made to silence or “disappear” opinions and facts that contradict the narrative. Efforts are made to strengthen echo chambers and filter bubbles. Those with different opinions are slandered with the most awful epithets and are the targets of shocking witch hunts. Efforts are made to promote what is little more than what Yuval Noah Harari identified as a 21st century religion onto as many people as possible. And efforts are made to punish those who dare challenge dogma and to destroy heretics and especially apostates. Instead of digitising books for perpetual preservation, they function like modern day book burners. Now that is a little hyperbolic, but only a little.

Winston Churchill was prophetic when he said, “The fascists of the future will call themselves antifascists.”

The inmates are running the asylum and Google has begun an ideological death spiral.

George Orwell: The further society drifts from truth, the more it will hate those who speak it. And: In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

Note on Google’s Business
Over 90% of Google’s revenue comes from advertising via AdWords / AdSense. Despite over a decade of trying to diversify its revenue streams it has mostly failed. The enormous income from digital online advertising has subsidised and insulated all other efforts and business units. Apparently only a tiny core of employees are responsible for the technology that underpins Google’s advertising. Combine this with an understanding of statistics and pareto distributions and it is reasonable to estimate that within Google’s 72,000 employees there are probably only 300 or so core engineers supporting the foundation for the majority of Google’s income. This event would have sent a number of signals to those most productive engineers, who are and will be, under increasing pressure to maintain, let alone grow, advertising revenue.

Procter and Gamble announced at the end of the June quarter that they had cut $100 million from digital advertising for the quarter, with practically zero impact on their business. That is $400 million per year. Maybe next quarter they cut $200 million to see what effect it has? Maybe other major - and not so major - companies realise they should do the same? Cut online advertising spending to find the point at which it actually impacts the bottom line? As a shareholder of any of these companies you could claim that the CEO is engaged in negligent allocation of capital by not exploring this.

We’ve reached peak Google. The business is fragile and open to disruption. Check out CDX token, due for ICO on August 26, as an example of a distributed blockchain-based advertising network that flips Google’s centralised advertising model on its head. There are many corporate financiers who would love to carve out the advertising business and sell off the rest to finance and profit from it. Personally, if I traded US stocks I’d be shorting GOOG.

Part Six: I Loved Google
I was an unashamed Google fan for well over a decade. The technology was amazing, the integration across products and services second to none and incredibly convenient. I bought every Google flagship phone and resided predominantly within the Google ecosystem. Drive has a copy of every file I’ve ever created or photo I’ve taken. PlayMusic has all my music. Yes to YouTube Red. Gmail is always my go-to email account. Then there is hangouts, chromebooks, docs, apps, photos, blogs, etc. I’ve converted family onto Android and Google products and services and routinely recommend new start-ups to just get a Google Apps account to get going. I eagerly jumped from Facebook to Google+ for the majority of social media time.

I was fascinated by the Google mythology, the ploughing of profits into moonshot projects and next generation technologies that might change the world, and all piggybacking onto Google’s mind bogglingly awesome communications and data infrastructure. Self-driving cars, Boston Dynamics, Atmospheric internet balloons, DeepMind, big data. The mission to digitise and make accessible all knowledge and information. The human communications services and products.

I was an early adopter and first joined Google+ to find like-minded people to discuss science, technology, philosophy, and futurism. For a long while it served that purpose admirably. I met lots of fascinating people. I even met half a dozen in real life in Australia, Germany, and the USA. I learned an immeasurable amount as part of a never-ending free and open debate. I was challenged, intellectually, on a regular basis, and learned to craft posts and news commentary and arguments carefully. Sloppiness and logical inconsistencies were rightly eviscerated. I’m a better person for my time here.

However, over the last year the space has atrophied and suffered from the same toxic intolerance, the same self-righteous dogpiling by the same cultural ideologues evidenced in the response to this memo. It was utterly unimaginable to me just 6 months ago that there might ever be a time in future when Google was not an integral part of my life.

Part Seven: Divorcing Google
This is the first post I’ve ever made in a browser other than Chrome, and it will be the last post I make on this platform. Comments will be open for a week, after which this Google+ account will be deleted, along with all 1,104 posts and all 577,000 words that I have written for this platform. After abandoning Chrome for alternative browsers with permanent AdBlock this social media account deletion will be the next step in my divorce from Google. It will take a while but the goal is to deprive Google of all of my money and attention that it receives, while understanding that achieving that goal is impossible for the foreseeable future given Android and other unavoidable services. No more YouTube Red, Play Music, Play Movies, or Drive storage. No more data and service usage tracking. No more Chromebooks or recommendations to use GoogleApps, indeed strong recommendations to go elsewhere.

The issue is trust. Google has irrevocably destroyed my trust in them. I can’t trust them to “do the right thing.” I can’t trust them to “not be evil.” I can’t trust them with the power they have or the power I grant them over me.

I can’t trust or support a company like Google that doesn’t hold truth as its highest value and free speech as its foundational principle.

If you disagree and believe that the response to the memo was right and justified then good luck to you. Enjoy your echo chamber.

However, if you feel similar in any way, if anything I’ve written here resonates with you, if a deep part of you felt wrong at the response to this memo then I implore you to do the same. Clean your room. Assume the greatest responsibility that you yourself are personally able to shoulder, roughly speaking. Hold truth and free speech as fundamental presuppositions. Strive to be that which can ascend all competence hierarchies and do that which needs to be done. Get to it Buckos!
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