Bobo and Krugman

Oh, dear, oh dear!  Bobo’s delicate, fragile, white male sensibilities have been wounded.  Time to head to the fainting couch and clutch the pearls.  In “Sundar Pichai Should Resign as Google’s C.E.O.” he moans that his handling of the fallout from James Damore’s memo shows he’s in the wrong job.  There will be 2 rebuttals, one from “LT” in Chicago and one from “gemli” in Boston.  Prof. Krugman, who doesn’t seem to have his panties in a bunch about this, addresses “The Axis of Climate Evil” and says bad faith may destroy civilization.  Here’s Bobo:

There are many actors in the whole Google/diversity drama, but I’d say the one who’s behaved the worst is the C.E.O., Sundar Pichai.

The first actor is James Damore, who wrote the memo. In it, he was trying to explain why 80 percent of Google’s tech employees are male. He agreed that there are large cultural biases but also pointed to a genetic component. Then he described some of the ways the distribution of qualities differs across male and female populations.

Damore was tapping into the long and contentious debate about genes and behavior. On one side are those who believe that humans come out as blank slates and are formed by social structures. On the other are the evolutionary psychologists who argue that genes interact with environment and play a large role in shaping who we are. In general the evolutionary psychologists have been winning this debate.

When it comes to the genetic differences between male and female brains, I’d say the mainstream view is that male and female abilities are the same across the vast majority of domains — I.Q., the ability to do math, etc. But there are some ways that male and female brains are, on average, different. There seems to be more connectivity between the hemispheres, on average, in female brains. Prenatal exposure to different levels of androgen does seem to produce different effects throughout the life span.

In his memo, Damore cites a series of studies, making the case, for example, that men tend to be more interested in things and women more interested in people. (Interest is not the same as ability.) Several scientists in the field have backed up his summary of the data. “Despite how it’s been portrayed, the memo was fair and factually accurate,” Debra Soh wrote in The Globe and Mail in Toronto.

Geoffrey Miller, a prominent evolutionary psychologist, wrote in Quillette, “For what it’s worth, I think that almost all of the Google memo’s empirical claims are scientifically accurate.”

Damore was especially careful to say this research applies only to populations, not individuals: “Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population-level distributions.”

That’s the crucial point. But of course we don’t live as populations; we live our individual lives.

We should all have a lot of sympathy for the second group of actors in this drama, the women in tech who felt the memo made their lives harder. Picture yourself in a hostile male-dominated environment, getting interrupted at meetings, being ignored, having your abilities doubted, and along comes some guy arguing that women are on average less status hungry and more vulnerable to stress. Of course you’d object.

What we have is a legitimate tension. Damore is describing a truth on one level; his sensible critics are describing a different truth, one that exists on another level. He is championing scientific research; they are championing gender equality. It takes a little subtlety to harmonize these strands, but it’s doable.

Of course subtlety is in hibernation in modern America. The third player in the drama is Google’s diversity officer, Danielle Brown. She didn’t wrestle with any of the evidence behind Damore’s memo. She just wrote his views “advanced incorrect assumptions about gender.” This is ideology obliterating reason.

The fourth actor is the media. The coverage of the memo has been atrocious.

As Conor Friedersdorf wrote in The Atlantic, “I cannot remember the last time so many outlets and observers mischaracterized so many aspects of a text everyone possessed.” Various reporters and critics apparently decided that Damore opposes all things Enlightened People believe and therefore they don’t have to afford him the basic standards of intellectual fairness.

The mob that hounded Damore was like the mobs we’ve seen on a lot of college campuses. We all have our theories about why these moral crazes are suddenly so common. I’d say that radical uncertainty about morality, meaning and life in general is producing intense anxiety. Some people embrace moral absolutism in a desperate effort to find solid ground. They feel a rare and comforting sense of moral certainty when they are purging an evil person who has violated one of their sacred taboos.

Which brings us to Pichai, the supposed grown-up in the room. He could have wrestled with the tension between population-level research and individual experience. He could have stood up for the free flow of information. Instead he joined the mob. He fired Damore and wrote, “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not O.K.”

That is a blatantly dishonest characterization of the memo. Damore wrote nothing like that about his Google colleagues. Either Pichai is unprepared to understand the research (unlikely), is not capable of handling complex data flows (a bad trait in a C.E.O.) or was simply too afraid to stand up to a mob.

Regardless which weakness applies, this episode suggests he should seek a nonleadership position. We are at a moment when mobs on the left and the right ignore evidence and destroy scapegoats. That’s when we need good leaders most.

Now, here’s what “LT” from Chicago has to say to Bobo:

“Mr Brooks, as someone paid to express opinions instead of say, writing software, you may be surprised to learn that most companies are not interested in providing a platform for employees to express controversial opinions outside of their job scope.

When such opinions interfere with the employees ability to effectively perform their job they are often asked to leave.

Mr. Damore expressed his thoughts in a way that made leading and working with a diverse team of engineers who may not share his opinion, difficult if not impossible.

You may feel Damore made several good points but Google is not a debating club and Pichai had every right to fire him.

And if next week someone at Apple or Microsoft or Walmart, decides that their company needs to read their valuable thoughts about say, Charles Murray’s “The Bell Curve” , perhaps they should remember they are not a columnist before they press send.”

And “gemli” from Boston also had a few thoughts about this:

“Well, there are differences between men and women. I mean, vive la différence! Hubba hubba!

Also, women are supposed to take care of Wally and the Beaver, putter around the kitchen in dresses and high heels and prepare meals for the breadwinner, who’s an executive at a big company that is quite diverse, in that it probably hires black people to run the elevators.

I exaggerate to make a point. I read James Damore’s memo, and I don’t think I was as shocked as a liberal is supposed to be. Then again, I’m a little insensitive to bunny-hugging college kids who need trigger warnings before sensitive topics, like literature and history, are discussed in class.

But I’m not sure what Damore was trying to accomplish in this memo that justified what amounted to juggling nitroglycerine, or why defending himself on right-wing AM radio seemed like the best venue for defending his thesis.

Is Google not making enough technological progress? Is taking over the world being slowed by offices full of hysterical females?

Back when my parents were born, women couldn’t vote. When I was born, the front page of the local newspaper reported that a woman(!) was a jury member in a murder trial. It’s been an uphill slog for women to gain fully human status and a modicum of respect, and it’s alarming that despite so much progress, crotch groping is not a disqualification for the presidency.

Damore needn’t grease the skids. They’re plenty greasy enough.”

And now we get to Prof. Krugman:

“It’s Not Your Imagination: Summers Are Getting Hotter.” So read a recent headline in The Times, highlighting a decade-by-decade statistical analysis by climate expert James Hansen. “Most summers,” the analysis concluded, “are now either hot or extremely hot compared with the mid-20th century.”

So what else is new? At this point the evidence for human-caused global warming just keeps getting more overwhelming, and the plausible scenarios for the future — extreme weather events, rising sea levels, drought, and more — just keep getting scarier.

In a rational world urgent action to limit climate change would be the overwhelming policy priority for governments everywhere.

But the U.S. government is, of course, now controlled by a party within which climate denial — rejecting not just scientific evidence but also obvious lived experience, and fiercely opposing any effort to slow the trend — has become a defining marker of tribal identity.

Put it this way: Republicans can’t seem to repeal Obamacare, and recriminations between Senate leaders and the tweeter in chief are making headlines. But the G.O.P. is completely united behind its project of destroying civilization, and it’s making good progress toward that goal.

So where does climate denial come from?

Just to be clear, experts aren’t always right; even an overwhelming scientific consensus sometimes turns out to have been wrong. And if someone offers a good-faith critique of conventional views, a serious effort to get at the truth, he or she deserves a hearing.

What becomes clear to anyone following the climate debate, however, is that hardly any climate skeptics are in fact trying to get at the truth. I’m not a climate scientist, but I do know what bogus arguments look like — and I can’t think of a single prominent climate skeptic who isn’t obviously arguing in bad faith.

Take, for example, all the people who seized on the fact that 1998 was an unusually warm year to claim that global warming stopped 20 years ago — as if one unseasonably hot day in May proves that summer is a myth. Or all the people who cited out-of-context quotes from climate researchers as evidence of a vast scientific conspiracy.

Or for that matter, think of anyone who cites “uncertainty” as a reason to do nothing — when it should be obvious that the risks of faster-than-expected climate change if we do too little dwarf the risks of doing too much if change is slower than expected.

But what’s driving this epidemic of bad faith? The answer, I’d argue, is that there are actually three groups involved — a sort of axis of climate evil.

First, and most obvious, there’s the fossil fuel industry — think the Koch brothers — which has an obvious financial stake in continuing to sell dirty energy. And the industry — following the same well-worn pathindustry groups used to create doubt about the dangers of tobacco, acid rain, the ozone hole, and more — has systematically showered money on think tanks and scientists willing to express skepticism about climate change. Many — perhaps even most — authors purporting to cast doubt on global warming turn out, on investigation, to have received financial support from the fossil fuel sector.

Still, the mercenary interests of fossil fuel companies aren’t the whole story here. There’s also ideology.

An influential part of the U.S. political spectrum — think the Wall Street Journal editorial page — is opposed to any and all forms of government economic regulation; it’s committed to Reagan’s doctrine that government is always the problem, never the solution.

Such people have always had a problem with pollution: When unregulated individual actions impose costs on others, it’s hard to see how you avoid supporting some form of government intervention. And climate change is the mother of all pollution issues.

Some conservatives are willing to face this reality and support market-friendly intervention to limit greenhouse gas emissions. But all too many prefer simply to deny the existence of the issue — if facts conflict with their ideology, they deny the facts.

Finally, there are a few public intellectuals — less important than the plutocrats and ideologues, but if you ask me even more shameful — who adopt a pose of climate skepticism out of sheer ego. In effect, they say: “Look at me! I’m smart! I’m contrarian! I’ll show you how clever I am by denying the scientific consensus!” And for the sake of this posturing, they’re willing to nudge us further down the road to catastrophe.

Which brings me back to the current political situation. Right now progressives are feeling better than they expected to a few months ago: Donald Trump and his frenemies in Congress are accomplishing a lot less than they hoped, and their opponents feared. But that doesn’t change the reality that the axis of climate evil is now firmly in control of U.S. policy, and the world may never recover.

And again I think God that I’m An Old.


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