Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Guest Post: The Real Problem Isn't Gender; It's the Modern Media

This guest post by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz was adapted from a comment he wrote on a Facebook post of mine sharing this essay.

While gender in tech is certainly an issue, a lot of the controversy over it is unnecessary. What recently happened with the Google memo is a classic case of Scott Alexander’s Toxoplasma of Rage, one of the most brilliant pieces I have ever read. Read his post. Then read it again.

The stories that go viral are those that maximize anger and foster the most disagreement.

Guy writes a memo with a lot of true statements but an aggressive tone bound to infuriate some people. Within two days, everybody is predictably furious.

My hypothesis is that an overwhelming majority of people actually agree on many of the points of contention--or would agree if they were phrased a little less aggressively, in a tone less likely to create controversy and less likely to go viral.

How many people, for example, agree with the following statement?

"We do not know why CS majors are 80% male. It is possible that, even though millions of women have a passion for computer science, there are, in aggregate, fewer women than men who have this passion. We don't know since computer science is kind of new. And also we don't really understand why female CS majors rose to 40% and then plummeted. Since it is possible that discrimination and stereotypes play a role, we should devote resources to making sure everybody with interest in these high-status jobs has ample opportunity to pursue them. Also, everybody should be judged based on their own interest and aptitude in a job, not how many people of their gender would want that job. Finally, the majority of women in tech--as well as many other high-powered fields--have said they have faced sexism, and we should work really hard to stop that."

This addresses many of the controversies that were raised by the James Damore memo and the responses to it, but is phrased in a way such that few people would find it objectionable. Perhaps we should stop falling for these traps that maximize rage and instead try sober analysis. We may find a surprising amount of consensus.

Lastly, no young person, man or woman, should actually be training for anything--driving cars, teaching kids, diagnosing diseases, or writing programs--because AI will soon do all that for us. ;)

For 352 pages of sober analysis on even more controversial topics, you can check out Seth’s book Everybody Lies.