A Policy of Censorship More Extreme Than Google

A Policy of Censorship More Extreme Than Google

Gideon Scopes
Gideon Scopes

By now, we’ve all heard about James Damore, the software engineer who authored a memo suggesting that the tendency of more men than women tend to pursue careers in technology may be explained at least in part by biological differences. Qualified scientists have confirmed that the scientific facts cited by Damore are accurate to the best of our knowledge at this time, but Google nonetheless fired Damore for “advancing harmful gender stereotypes,” raising concerns from many that the company is inhospitable to those who do not conform to a very narrow, politically correct ideology.1,2 From my own experience as a software engineer who has worked at several companies and holds degrees from two universities, I can attest that this problem is not unique to Google but is widespread in both industry and academia.

In response to the Google memo, one company saw it necessary to lay down the law for its own employees, setting out a policy that is even more censorious than Google itself. That company is MongoDB, a New York-based database startup employing over 800 people.3 Those who do not work in technology have likely never heard of MongoDB, as their products are sold to other software developers rather than directly to consumers. Yet, the company’s influence is far-reaching; it boasts an impressive array of customers ranging from Google and Facebook to Verizon to The New York Times and The Washington Post.4

The company’s response was set forth in an email sent to employees by CTO Eliot Horowitz and subsequently posted on the company’s web site.5

He begins by invoking the history of racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry, going on to assert that diversity efforts are an effective remedy, but providing no evidence to back up this bold claim. In fact, it is highly questionable that this is true, especially in light of a recent cover story in The New York Times reporting that the underrepresentation of African-Americans and Hispanics at colleges and universities has gotten worse, not better, over the last 35 years while affirmative action has been in effect.6

Horowitz goes on to claim that viewing diversity efforts as acts of discrimination is a “false equivalence” and that the memo is therefore “not part of a healthy dialogue at all.” By doing so, he alienates the majority of the American people and makes it clear that their opinions are unwelcome at MongoDB. According to a Gallup poll taken last year, 63% of Americans believe that race or ethnicity should not be a factor in college admissions, while 66% believe that gender should not be a factor.7 Ballot initiatives to ban affirmative action have passed in a number of states, including traditionally Democratic states such as California and Michigan.8

The notion that policies put in place to promote diversity or remedy historical injustices can themselves be acts of discrimination has also been the holding of the United States Supreme Court in numerous cases. Racial quotas and point systems in college admissions were struck down as unconstitutional on the grounds that they discriminate against white and Asian students.9,10 Single-sex public universities have been struck down on the grounds that they discriminate against men.11 Views that are mainstream enough to be held by a majority of the public and used as a basis for decisions by the nation’s highest court are declared to be unthinkable at MongoDB.

Horowitz continues by characterizing Damore’s memo as “just another attempt to disguise prejudice in the clothing of rationalism.” “History is littered with them,” he claims, although he provides not a single example. This characterization seems highly questionable, since many of the most oppressive institutions that have existed through history operated by forcing people to suppress their rationality and accept the word of authority figures without questioning. From the Inquisition to the regimes of Hitler and Stalin, those who thought for themselves were to be quashed, often with brutal violence.

One can assume that Horowitz is referring to such things as eugenics and social Darwinism. Yet this too is a highly flawed analogy. Proponents of these hateful ideologies used pseudoscience to argue that people of certain races were superior to those of others and to advocate for human rights abuses such as forced sterilization. Damore is doing just the opposite: arguing that we should treat all people solely on account of their individual merit, without regard to accidents of birth such as their race or gender. To view those who use pseudoscience to negate the humanity of others and justify violence against them as morally equivalent to those who use valid science to argue that all people should be treated as equals is the true false equivalence at play in this discussion.

Next, Horowitz provides the following gem: “For those of you with the luxury of reading this latest example without feeling directly threatened by it, understand that crediting the author with ‘some good points’ provides cover for his conclusions, and contributes to a hostile environment for your peers.” First and foremost, he is suggesting that the idea that companies should treat their employees equally without regard to their gender is so horrific that to merely speak it is threatening to women. His use of the words “hostile environment” is almost certainly an allusion to sexual harassment law. That he would interpret this law so broadly as to consider the expression of political views or scientific hypotheses to rise to the level of sexual harassment is deeply troubling. The First Amendment comes into play here, as these are no longer solely the actions of a private corporation but rather are done in the name of complying with the law.

Just as troubling is Horowitz’s contention that it is unacceptable not just to agree with the parts of the memo that he found offensive but rather to agree with anything that Damore said—granting that he had “some good points” is hostile. In doing this, Horowitz displays the worst tendencies of the far-left. When confronted with ideas with which they disagree and that they find offensive, they seek not to understand or even to persuade, only to demonize and dehumanize. Since Damore deviated from the politically correct dogma on diversity, we must not only criticize the points on which we see him as being wrong but unequivocally condemn every word of his memo.

There is no room for nuance, no room for subtlety. Feelings supersede facts. The emotions of the most fragile must be soothed at any cost, even if the truth is a casualty.

Horowitz concludes by saying, “As our Embrace the Power of Differences value states, our commitment to increasing diversity is not about changing our standards (which is what the memo implies). It’s instead about a commitment to source, interview, grow, and retain members of underrepresented groups who meet those standards.” We lack adequate data to know whether or not this is accurate about MongoDB. Even if the company does not have any overt policies that call for applicants or employees of certain groups to receive preference, telling those who make hiring decisions that the company wishes to hire more people from certain groups could cause them to grant preference, either consciously or subconsciously, to applicants from those groups.

Whether or not the claim is accurate for MongoDB specifically, it is demonstrably false for the technology field as a whole. At MIT and Caltech, the admissions rate for girls is more than twice that for boys.12 Unless female applicants are far better qualified on average than their male counterparts, this does not reflect admissions decisions being made solely on merit. At one company, an experiment was recently done where the voices of applicants were altered electronically to change their gender during phone interviews.13 This was done with the intent of counteracting subconscious bias that was presumed to be holding back female applicants. However, the results of the experiment were exactly the opposite of what was expected: Men did slightly better when perceived as women, while women did slightly worse when perceived as men. These results suggest that, to the extent that gender bias exists in the hiring process, it is perhaps in favor of women and against men, not the other way around. It seems that MongoDB has failed to live out another of its stated core values, Be Intellectually Honest.

While it has not received the same level of attention in the press, the MongoDB email ought to be sounding alarm bells as much as the Google diversity memo for anyone who believes in free speech, intellectual diversity, putting science ahead of political correctness, or the notion that people of differing beliefs should be able to put their differences aside in the workplace and work together to build great products. Damore’s memo was entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” but one could substitute for Google not just MongoDB but likely many other major technology companies. In the 21st century, these companies shape our world with their huge influence on how we access and share information. If we care about building a society where all are welcome and all voices can be heard, we ought to demand that these companies live up to the values that we hold dear as Americans.

 

References

[1] Jussim, Lee; Schmitt, David P.; Miller: Geoffrey; Soh, Debra W. The Google Memo: Four Scientists Respond [Internet]. [place unknown]: Quillette; 2017 Aug 07 [cited 2017 Aug 31]. Available from: https://quillette.com/2017/08/07/google-memo-four-scientists-respond/

[2] Grothaus, Michael. Here is Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s response to employees about the anti-diversity memo [Internet]. New York: Fast Company; 2017 Aug 08 [cited 2017 Aug 08]. Available from: https://www.fastcompany.com/40450156/here-is-google-ceo-sundar-pichais-response-to-employees-about-the-anti-diversity-memo

[3] About Us [Internet]. New York: MongoDB; [cited 2017 Aug 27]. Available from: https://www.mongodb.com/company

[4] Our Customers [Internet]. New York: MongoDB; [cited 2017 Aug 27]. Available from: https://www.mongodb.com/who-uses-mongodb

[5] Horowitz, Eliot. A MongoDB Engineering Response to the Anti-Diversity-Effort Manifesto. New York: MongoDB; 2017 Aug 14 [cited 2017 Aug 27]. Available from: https://engineering.mongodb.com/post/a-mongodb-engineering-response-to-the-anti-diversity-effort-manifesto

[6] Ashkenas, Jeremy; Park, Haeyoun; Pearce, Adam. Even With Affirmative Action, Blacks and Hispanics Are More Underrepresented at Top Colleges Than 35 Years Ago [Internet]. New York: The New York Times; 2017 Aug 24 [cited 2017 Aug 31]. Available from: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/08/24/us/affirmative-action.htm

[7] Newport, Frank. Most in U.S. Oppose Colleges Considering Race in Admissions [Internet]. Washington (DC): Gallup; 2016 Jul 8 [cited 2017 Aug 27]. Available from: http://www.gallup.com/poll/193508/oppose-colleges-considering-race-admissions.aspx.

[8] Affirmative Action: State Action [Internet]. Denver: National Conference of State Legislatures; 2014 Apr [cited 2017 Aug 31]. Available from: http://www.ncsl.org/research/education/affirmative-action-state-action.aspx

[9] Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 US 265 (1978)

[10] Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 US 244 (2003)

[11] Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan, 458 US 718 (1982)

[12] Mulhere, Kaitlin. 10 Best Colleges Where Being a Woman Gives You an Admissions Edge [Internet]. New York: Money; 2015 Dec 15 [cited 2017 Aug 31]. Available from: http://time.com/money/4147738/colleges-women-higher-acceptance-rate/

[13] Lerner, Aline. We built voice modulation to mask gender in technical interviews. Here’s what happened [Internet]. San Francisco: interviewing.io blog; 2016 Jun 29 [cited 2017 Aug 31]. Available from: http://blog.interviewing.io/we-built-voice-modulation-to-mask-gender-in-technical-interviews-heres-what-happened/

Free SpeechScience / Tech

Gideon Scopes

The author is a software engineer. Gideon Scopes is a pseudonym. Given the current climate surrounding political expression in the technology industry, his real name has been withheld.